Published: 15 February 2019

ELECTIONS are a great way of deciding who we want to sit on the Treasury benches but they’re a flawed means of deciding particular policies, especially vexed questions like pokie policy.

The Liberals deservedly won the 2014 election because they hadn’t done enough wrong. Electors, however, didn’t give them carte blanche approval to do whatever they wanted. Rather they were given the right to put forward a detailed proposal for consideration. My role as a Legislative Councillor is to scrutinise any proposal on behalf of my constituents.

Policies related to pokies, otherwise known as Electronic Gaming Machines, presented a clear point of difference between the two major parties in the 2018 election. The heat and noise of the battle, however, made it hard to distinguish if people were voting for a party or endorsing a particular policy.

It was clear from conversations throughout the community that traditional voters were mixed in their support for their party’s policy. Some self-described “rusted-on” Liberal voters informed me they had voted Labor for the first time in their lives on the strength of its policy. Some traditional Labor voters had expressed their lack of support for Labor’s policy.

Away from the hullabaloo of an election is a perfect opportunity for Tasmanians to have a say about whether they support pokies in pubs and clubs as a single issue. The government is in no rush to present its plans to Parliament.

The Joint House Committee Select Committee on Future Gaming Markets heard from many Tasmanians. Most were in favour of restricting EGM’s much more than was ultimately recommended. The Government had already decided what it was going to do without reading the report. The Government’s sole member Ms Courtney issued a dissenting statement saying that a reduction in EGMs in pubs and clubs “would have devastating economic and employment impacts on many businesses and communities”. Apart from venues with EGMs, not one business, nor any community representatives gave evidence their businesses and communities would be devastated if EGMs were removed.

It’s time to revisit this matter. In the electorate of Braddon EGM losses are roughly $35 million a year. Currently 80 per cent or $28 million leaves the area courtesy of Federal Hotels and the tax man. Local venues only retain 20 per cent. How can anyone seriously argue that if most of this 80 per cent remained in the local area, communities would be devastated? It’s a ridiculous proposition, but that’s what we were told during the election campaign. EGM venues would suffer there’s little doubt. Some players may find themselves at a loose end. But overall communities would be better off. That’s only the economic aspects.

The evidence on the social aspects is even clearer. Gambling addiction causes real and long lasting harm to individuals, families and communities. Independent evidence shows three out of four people being harmed by gambling principally use poker machines. Addiction to poker machines brings additional risks due to the nature of the design of the machines. The harm does not include only financial disaster, bankruptcy and loss of assets such as the family home, but also relationship breakdown, increased incidence of family violence, adverse impacts on mental and physical health, increased crime, drug and alcohol abuse and self-harm.

EGM’s are designed to extract as much money as possible, and, by using well known principles of behavioural psychology, create addiction. Sporting and other clubs have a growing awareness of the harms resulting from EGMs in their venues with a number of AFL clubs removing them.

EGM design is important to harm minimisation. Deliberate addictive structural characteristics are not accidental aspects of game design, nor are they unalterable. Spin rates and win probabilities can easily change. EGMs have evolved rapidly in recent years, increasing the addictive potential, and thus the likelihood of harmful consequences for a substantial proportion of players.

Even if the community favours licenses at venue level why should these be freebies rather than put out to tender as originally proposed by the Government? Given the recent revelations about donations to political parties this deeply troubles me.

Let’s just all take a deep breath and have a second look at EGMs while we can before a 20 year deal is agreed.

Let’s stop the harm.


The Advocate 15 February 2019

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