Tas pokies laws a 'great missed chance'

Laws to end Tasmania's poker machine monopoly have passed but critics say it's a missed opportunity.
Laws to end Tasmania's poker machine monopoly have passed but critics say it's a missed opportunity.

Controversial poker machine reforms in Tasmania have become law but anti-gambling advocates say a once-in-a-generation opportunity to implement greater harm-reduction measures has been missed.

Legislation passed through parliament on Thursday that ends a statewide 50-year monopoly held by Federal Group on the gaming machines.

From mid-2023, venues will be allowed to own or lease their own poker machines.

The Liberal government says the laws, which also include changes to the tax rate on Keno, will leave Federal Group - the owner of Tasmania's two casinos, plus 12 hotels - about $25 million worse off per year overall.

However, critics have lashed the laws, which slash the tax rate paid by Federal Group on pokie takings at its casinos by almost half.

"This will surely go down in Tasmanian political history as one of the great missed opportunities of our generation," anti-gambling advocate and Tasmanian federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie said.

"The Tasmanian people will forgo hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue that could have been put towards better hospitals and schools.

"Here we had a golden opportunity to put in place some workable, sensible harm-minimisation measures that would have made a massive difference to the lives of gambling addicts and their families."

The government has instructed the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission to probe the merits of implementing a smart card-based identification system to enable setting limits on gaming losses in advance.

"This holds potential to play a major role in harm minimisation," Finance Minister Michael Ferguson said.

The Liberals took a pledge to end Federal Group's monopoly to the 2018 election and released the tax rates in July after being returned to power in May.

The Labor opposition campaigned in 2018 on a platform of banning pokies in pubs and clubs but has since dropped the policy.

Labor voted in favour of the bill through the state's upper and lower house, with the exception of one member who intends to quit the party.

Lower-house independent Kristie Johnston opposed the bill and put forward amendments, such as $1 bet limits and reduced spin speeds, that were not adopted.

"(I want) to put on record my deep distress, sadness that ... we are putting in measures that will harm the community for many, many years to come," she said in parliament on Thursday.

The Greens also voted against the legislation, with leader Cassy O'Connor accusing the major parties of putting profit over people.

The Liberals were heavily bankrolled by the hospitality industry during the 2018 election campaign.

Premier Peter Gutwein told state parliament this week he had a "clear conscience" over the laws.

"This has been around for a while. It has had a very good going-over by the upper house. Some would say perhaps time has been wasted," he said.

"The policy has been out since 2018. It has been, in effect, through two election periods. The state will get more money from it and we will invest more into harm minimisation measures."

The laws lock in the arrangements for 20 years.

Federal Group opened the country's first casino in Hobart in 1973 and less than a decade later opened a second on the outskirts of Launceston.

Government projections suggest the laws will result in the company's annual revenue dropping from $109 million in 2018/19 to $84 million.

Federal Group did not confirm that projection but did warn agree there would be losses.

"We have always taken our responsibility to players and harm-minimisation measures extremely seriously," executive general manager Daniel Hanna said in a statement.

"The inescapable truth is that Federal Group's overall returns will be significantly reduced under the new gaming model."

Australian Associated Press