Pokies losses hit $180 million since Gutwein became Tasmanian Premier

Almost $500 million lost since the last state election
Published
 April 26, 2021
Published:  April 26, 2021
"Kelly Country" poker machine. Image: Bob Burton.

More than $180 million has been lost on Tasmanian poker machines since Peter Gutwein became Premier in January 2020, according to data from the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission.

Since the re-election of the Liberal Government in March 2018, losses on poker machines have run to almost $500 million.

The latest monthly data, released on Friday, indicates daily losses averaged over $545,000 a day since poker machine venues reopened following the coronavirus lockdown.

This is an increase of almost $70,000 lost a day compared with the year before.

Poker machine venues were closed between 23 March and 26 June last year due to public health restrictions.Independent member for the Legislative Council seat of Nelson, Meg Webb, a long-time social policy campaigner who is not up for re-election on 1 May, estimated the lockdown averted further losses of $44.3 million.

“It’s important to remember that half the money lost to pokies in Tasmania comes from people who are addicted or in at-risk categories,” she said.

“Those losses are not recreational. Hundreds of millions of dollars in the past three years have come from Tasmanians with a diagnosable condition, causing damage to their lives and harm to those around them.”

Ahead of the March 2018 state election the Federal Group, which operates two casinos and a network of hotels with poker machines, and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association (THA), which represents pubs and clubs, launched an advertising and PR blitz against Labor and the Greens. Both parties wanted poker machines removed from community pubs and clubs but retained in the two casinos.

This election the two lobby groups have been far more muted, having entered into memoranda of understanding with the Labor and Liberal parties.

Over $750 million will be lost on Tasmania’s poker machines in the next four year term of the House of Assembly if the losses continue at their current rate.

The MOU with the Labor Party said it supported poker machines remaining in pubs and clubs and agreed to “work together on the development of potential viable harm minimisation” measures. It said these measures  “need to be workable for industry”.

Whether Federal Group and the THA are donating to political parties and candidates ahead of this election remains unclear.

A spokesperson for the clubs lobby group told Tasmanian Inquirer on 7 April  that at that stage it had “no intention of making any donations to any party or candidates” in either the  House of Assembly or Legislative Council campaigns. A request for confirmation that this is still the case drew no response.

Federal Group was also asked if it was contributing to any political parties or candidates in either the House of Assembly or the Legislative Council campaigns. No response was received.

Over $750 million will be lost on Tasmania’s poker machines in the next four year term of the House of Assembly if the losses continued at their current rate.

Webb said the magnitude of the losses highlighted the need to adopt strong harm minimisation measures. “The harm caused by pokies addiction is largely preventable.  We know exactly how to make the machines less addictive and less harmful, and doing so would not affect the experience of recreational users,” she said.

“But this is an industry that fiercely defends the super-profits it derives from those who are addicted and is prepared to brutally bring to heel any state government or political party that dares stand in its way.”

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

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