In Gaming - Pokies by Clyde Mooney

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Tasmania’s election – aka the state referendum on poker machines – has ended with a decisive win by the incumbent Liberal government, with its plans to keep them.

For several months news on the pending Tasmanian state election has been dominated by Labor’s vow to eradicate the 2,375 EGMs from the 98 pubs and clubs in the state that operate them. The two casinos were to retain at least their current 1,185 machines.

The home of vehement anti-pokies campaigner Andrew Wilkie, the scheduled election has subsequently become a sounding board for anyone in favour of their removal, largely at the expense of discussion of any other topic.

Labor’s policy drew support from the Greens, which was formed in Tasmania, and much of the rhetoric has focused on unsubstantiated large-scale donations to the Liberals by the gaming industry, Greens leader Cassy O’Connor slandering the Liberals as being “bought by the gambling industry”.

Justification of this seemed to arise from Liberal Treasurer Peter Gutwein’s statement that 5,100 jobs would be lost.

A study by the Tasmanian Hospitality Association (THA) over the State’s gaming venues estimated that 1,038 jobs would be cut if EGMs were removed.

Gutwein has maintained his original statement, although clarifying that the number cited comprised 3,000 people employed at the venues, and a further 2,100 people involved in gaming services employed by Federal Group, which holds the licences for the State’s machines.

The debate over the number of jobs directly affected by removing poker machines from local hospitality venues seems to have failed to recognise that many of the businesses operating EGMs and employing people would not be economically viable without the machines, thus threatening the employment of all workers, not just gaming room staff.

Like most smaller population bases, Tasmania must actively pursue future opportunities and many see its obvious tourism potential as a conduit to economic growth.

Modest, under-capitalised hotels and clubs could find themselves increasingly unable to compete in a world with increasingly ubiquitous access to gaming entertainment, and expectations of venue offering.

This may have been the biggest driver behind the majority government under Will Hodgman being returned over the weekend, with Tasmanians resonating with the THA’s ‘Love your Local’ campaign.

Figures in Australian Gambling Statistics Volume 33 cite that between 2003 and 2016 the amount spent per capita by Tasmanians on poker machines fell 39 per cent, to $282.86, and the State government received just over $31.5m in revenue from EGMs and Keno.

Like all Australian states, EGMs in Tasmania are subject to stringent legislation, regulation and national standards, and Gaming Technologies Association (GTA) CEO Ross Ferrar believes the proposal to help the estimated 0.6 per cent of the population with problem gambling issues was out of step with the broader population.

“Electronic Gaming Machines in pubs and hotels are a legitimate and legal activity. The overwhelming majority of Tasmanian poker machine users are responsible gamblers.

“Removing poker machines from all hotels and clubs rides roughshod over their legitimate choices and those who enjoy poker machines responsibly.”

Labor’s “get rid of them” approach was sadly another ‘poke the smoke’ politicised solution based in the time-honoured failings of prohibition.

“The GTA strongly supports harm minimisation efforts,” continues Ferrar. “However, we do not believe banning our products is any more likely to assist problem gamblers than alcohol prohibition would help problem drinkers.”