Tasmania is the latest Australian state to feel the burn of anti-gambling advocates, with the state government passing a vote last week to conduct an inquiry into Tasmania’s gaming industry. The vote came after data released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed that Tassie punters lost $113 million on the pokies during the 2014-15 financial year, approximately $90 of which was lost on pokies in the states two casinos.
Tasmania’s gaming industry has also felt the pressure from independent lobbyists Andrew Wilkie, who has teamed up with South Australia’s anti-gambling poster boy, Nick Xenophon in a bid for a national pokies reform. Wilkie is backed by the Community Voice on Pokies Reform, which is made up of 33 organisations, local councils and community groups including Anglicare, Lifeline, Mission Australia and the Youth Network of Tasmania.
A spokeswoman for the Pokies Reform, Megg Webb, said over a thousand Tasmanians had signed a petition calling for the state’s Premiere to put a ban on the pokies. Ms Webb said, “We want to show that they have the support of the community to take action. The inquiry will allow other aspects of gambling to be looked at and, importantly, will allow discussion of how to help businesses transition away from their reliance on poker machines.”
Devonport Mayor, Steve Martin, is wary about the inquiry, saying changes to Tasmania’s gambling legislation may not necessarily have positive effects as it could lead to a boost in online gambling. “The government needs to be careful what is wishes for,” Alderman Martin said. “If you took all the poker machines out of Devonport people who are addicted would just go elsewhere, such as online.”
While he acknowledged that problem gambling presented a problem for North West communities, he said more needed to be done to change the behaviour of problem gamblers than simply changing the gambling legislations.
The Tasmanian gaming inquiry will look into community attitudes towards the gambling industry, as well as reporting on the location, number and type of pokies offered in different areas. It will take into consideration the Social and Economic Impact Studies conducted for Tasmania, a review of harm minimisation measures and their effectiveness and assess options of how market-based mechanisms to operate pokies could be framed.
The inquiry will also address the future of gaming taxes and licensing agreements for Tasmanian poker machines. As it stands, no new licenses to operate the pokies are legally allowed to be issued until 2019, and under current legislation no changes can be made to an existing policy until 2023.
The General Manager of the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, Steve Old, said the THA welcomed the inquiry’s terms of reference and would put forward a submission. He said the THA will supply industry views as to how the operation of pokies in pubs and clubs could be framed in the future, while focusing on how to improve returns to the venue operators.
The inquiry is due to report by the end of September 2017.