Fresh spin on pokies – Meg Webb MLC | Independent Member for Nelson

David Killick | Mercury Newspaper | February 3, 2021

Resumption of reform process draws renewed flak

CHANGES to Tasmania’s controversial gaming machine regulations are back on the agenda.

Key elements of the reform process include allowing pubs and clubs to own and operate machines – ending the monopoly of the Federal Group – and the potential for two new high-roller casino licences, including one for Mona founder David Walsh.

Pokies were a key issue in the 2018 state election, but Finance Minister Michael Ferguson said the reform stalled in March last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister Michael Ferguson says legislation on gambling reforms will be before parliament this year.

THE state government will press ahead with its controversial poker machine reforms and present legislation to parliament this year, says Finance Minister Michael Ferguson.

Pokies were a key issue in the 2018 state election, but the government halted the reform process in March last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Ferguson announced on Tuesday the reforms process would resume.

“We did accept the pandemic last year was a major disruption and we agreed to press pause on that, but we’ve reactivated it,” he said. “The submissions and the consultation report are now online and publicly available so Tasmanians can have a look at the feedback that’s been provided and the department’s response.

“And we do intend to move on our policy through the Tasmanian parliament this year.

“Government’s position going into the last election was very clear and it also provides a greater support for the smaller venues to take a revenue share and a greater kick-in for the community support levy.”

The government has released submissions to its Future of Gaming in Tasmania consultation paper. Most were from hotel and club venue operators and most were supportive of government policy.

The proposed reforms include caps on poker machine numbers statewide at 2350 machines, with current caps of 30 for a hotel and 40 for a club remaining. Pubs and clubs would be able to own and operate machines, ending the monopoly enjoyed by Federal Group.

There will also be two new high-roller casino licences issued, one for Mona founder David Walsh.

Legislative Councillor Meg Webb is a long-time anti-pokies campaigner who says the reforms to no do enough to protect problem gamblers.

“The Gutwein government must release its modelling and evidence to demonstrate this policy and implementation framework is the best option for the Tasmanian community,” she said.

“The government must guarantee that any reform to pokies licensing will not result in higher levels of harm to Tasmanians. Numerous submissions are concerned that the proposed future gaming markets regulatory model is weighted too heavily to benefit industry at the expense of the community.”

Ms Webb called for $1 bet limits, six-second spin speeds, $1000 maximum jackpots and a 92 per cent minimum return to player rate.

Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie said giving away the right to operate poker machines in exchange for relatively low licence fees would be a $350m windfall for pubs and clubs.

“Imagine what a difference $350m could make in our hospitals and schools.”

He described the policy as a payday for the industry, which bankrolled the Liberals’ 2018 election victory.

Story: [email protected]

Picture Chris Kidd

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