Image for Poker machines – a time for change?

I was recently asked to provide a 550 word article on any topic for the Advocate newspaper. Whilst, I have publically stated I would prefer Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs/pokies) to be limited solely to Tasmanian Casinos and the TT Line and not be housed in pubs and clubs that probably isn’t going to happen; especially with the current Government negotiating the next twenty year deal. I therefore suggest that we should, as a supportive and responsible community, at least aim to remove 50% of the machines from our communities by 2023. The article below appeared in Monday 16 July Advocate newspaper.  Some of your readers may be interested in this topic.

Before chairing the 2017 Parliamentary Inquiry into Future Gaming Markets I was inclined to accept the proliferation, use and accessibility of electronic gaming machines in Tasmania.

I view gambling, be it a day at the races or a ticket in a sweep, as a bit of fun.  Many of us would recall the Casinos opening in Hobart and Launceston.  Dining, entertainment and dressing up were part of a special night out or “an occasion”.  These days, the glitz and glamour of the Casinos seems to have faded – the Inquiry heard references to ‘Pokie barns’.

The 2003 deed negotiated between the Federal Group and the Government stated 3680 EGM licences would be granted - 1180 being housed in Casinos and the remaining 2500 to be taken up by Hotels and RSL clubs. There are currently 89 hotels and 7 clubs with gaming machines and approximately 250 venues which choose not to.

In light of the State’s current economic position, it is difficult to sustain the argument that the Government is dependent on revenue from gaming.  Currently, gaming activity in Tasmania contributes only 1-2% of State revenue.  In comparison, in Victoria the figure is 12% and Queensland, closer to 13%. 

In contrast to other States and Territories, Western Australia confines pokies purely to the Casinos, which are viewed by locals and visitors alike as destination points – places to enjoy a special night out. The pubs and clubs promote local music and are vibrant, social places for people to chat and interact.  It is worth noting that Western Australia has the nation’s lowest rates of problem gambling.

Player losses in Tasmania through EGMs in 2016-2017 amounted to $182 million - 60% (approximately $110 million), was attributable to pokies in pubs and clubs.  Some Tasmanian towns which can least afford them have the highest concentration of pokies. Glenorchy has 270 machines with $20 million dollars lost in revenue to that community in twelve months.

Devonport has 230 poker machines for a community of 30,000 people. Nearly one poker machine for every ninety adults, one of the highest rates in Tasmania, extracting approximately 12 million dollars annually from locals. 

While the industry stakeholders claim pokies create jobs, information provided to the Inquiry challenges that position.  The Committee was informed that $1 million in pokies revenue provides three jobs in the gaming industry, in the retail industry, a million dollars would support 10 jobs, and in hospitality, $1 million equates to 16-18 jobs.

Whilst banning pokies from pubs and clubs did not garner enough support from the six Member Committee to be adopted as a recommendation; the majority of the Committee did support Recommendation Two, that, “The Government adopt strategies to facilitate the reduction of a significant number of EGMs from Tasmanian Hotels and Clubs by the 1st July 2023.”

Unfortunately, the Government is maintaining its pre-Inquiry position of a decrease of only 150 machines. This actually results in no meaningful change as it represents the number of EGMs currently not in circulation. 

In my view, Tasmania would benefit if EGM numbers in pubs and clubs were reduced by at least half.

Now is the time to markedly decrease the number of machines before the next agreement is signed. Before the State commits future generations to another 20 year deed and legally binding legislation.