New Tassie pokies policy could mean trouble for the Apple Isle

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Tasmanian political parties stay put on gambling policies

Tasmania has been warned that its planned gambling shake up may leave the sector open to corruption.

The Australian reports that independents have been flagging amendments to encourage pubs to surrender pokies and reduce harm.

The Hodgman Liberal government will next year unveil a new pokies and gaming regime that will break the 50-year monopoly enjoyed by the Federal Group.

The details of the plan are yet to be revealed, but the finer points of its guiding policy look to abandon a previous commitment to holding a tender or similar process to allocate and price pokies licences.

There also appears to be no commitment to put two new high-roller casino licences to the open market, with one instead already promised to Museum of Old and New Art founder David Walsh.

State could lose out financially – expert

Several gambling experts believe the lack of market mechanisms for both significant licencing streams could cast a shadow over the state’s new regime, to apply from 2023.

Monash University’s Gambling and Social Determinant unit head Charles Livingston said: “This is one of the blights of Tasmanian gambling policy: the tendency to do deals behind closed doors.”

“Given the capacity for corruption and things to go wrong – money laundering and everything else – these things need to be as transparent as possible.

“If Walshy’s got a good business plan and he can persuade whoever is reviewing the tenders that this is the best way forward, then good on him and he’ll get it. But if he can’t, then whoever is able to…should get it.”

The new gambling regime, triggered by the expiry of the Federal Group’s monopoly ownership of poker machines in casinos, pubs and clubs in Tasmania was flagged by the current government in 2016.

At the time, the government promised the rights to operate pokies in pubs and clubs after 2023 would be “allocated and priced by a market-based mechanism, such as a tender.”

That commitment appears to have been dropped and Dr Livingstone said by doing so, the government would forgo an estimated $250 million that might have been raised from a tender or auction.

The government – backed by pubs and clubs and the Federal Group – said it would instead achieve improved returns for taxpayers from a higher tax rate on pokies in hotels, and from an annual licence fee of up to $2,500 per machine.

“We are confident of a good outcome for the taxpayer, the community, the industry and the broader economy,” a government spokesman said.

Mr Walsh declined to comment.

Independent MP Madeleine Ogilvie, whose vote the government may need in the House of Assembly, said she wanted to see consideration of a “voluntary licence buy-back scheme” for pokies.

This would fund pubs to surrender their pokies, particularly in battling communities such as Glenorchy, in her electorate of Clark.

Along with Upper House independents, the Greens and the ALP, she flagged she would also push for further harm minimisation strategies, such as smaller bet limits.

“I do think harm minimisation strategies are absolutely worthwhile,” she said.

Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission fines 10

Ten individuals and businesses were disciplined by the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission between November and June, the authorities said.

The ABC reported in August that of the breaches, worth a collective $22,830, UBET received the largest penalty – $9,780 – for failing to include a responsible gambling message in its advertising.

The two casino businesses linked to pokies giant Federal Group were found to have also breached gaming laws.

Country Club Casino was fined $3,260 after an unlicensed person performed the work of a special employee.

Wrest Point Hotel Casino was sent a letter of censure for non-compliance with the requirements of the Internal Control and Accounting Manual.

Garich Pty Ltd, which runs Moonah Hotel, received a letter of censure for failing to provide CCTV, and was also fined $815 because an employee did not complete a Responsible Conduct of Gambling course.

Three people received letter of censure for playing Keno while working.

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