Tassie economist outlines pokies plan that rewards harm minimisation

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
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Changes to gambling legislation in Tasmania have proposed to reward pubs using pokies with programmed harm minimisation measures.

The Examiner reports renowned Tasmanian accountant and economist John Lawrence has proposed a raft of changes to the state’s pokies legislature, including altering the tax rate of specific poker machines, rather than of the venue within which they reside.

Mr Lawrence made an extensive submission to the Future of Gaming in Tasmania Public Consultation in March 2020, where he detailed how a “step-tax-rate” could aid harm minimisation across the electronic gaming machine industry.

Now, he believes as much as ever those changes could be what unites gaming empires, pub owners and poker machine opponents ahead of a proposed legislation being voted on by the Tasmanian parliament.

Programmed harm minimisation messages could reduce tax rates

Mr Lawrence’s proposition would see pokies with more harm minimisation strategies programmed into them taxed at a lower rate, while those with less strategies costing the owner more.

“With a step-tax-rate, the venue owner has an incentive to move to a model with harm minimisation built in,” he said.

He said with the legislation in its current consultative form, the changes could be implemented while retaining a number of the other proposals.

In the past, discussions have considered a tender process in which proposed poker machine owners would make offers for machines based on their “value” or how much money they will make.

Mr Lawrence said despite good intentions, it was unlikely a tender process would work because poker machines are already so widely distributed around Tasmania and tender prices would be at the liberty of the current owner.

“The legislation proposes a licence system but then you need an electronic gaming machine authority for each machine, it’s tailor made for introducing new systems,” he said.

“An EGM authority could be introduced and it could introduce these tax rates.”

Harm minimisation a focus of Tassie gaming reforms

Harm minimisation has remained part of the Future of Gaming discussion as anti pokies advocates look for ways to find a common ground between businesses protecting pokies profits and members of the community they believe are susceptible to poker machine addiction.

As pokies are programmable, harm minimisation tactics are able to be added to them in a way that reduces the psychological impact the machine has on the player.

Techniques such as slower spin speed, reducing jackpots, disallowing losses disguised as near misses have been floated as a means of programmed harm minimisation.

Mr Lawrence said machines with more harm minimisation tactics on board could then be charged at a lower rate to pokie owners to encourage them to opt for machines which he believed would reduce the impact on addicted gamblers.

In April 2021, government data showed Tasmanians had spent $150 million on the state’s 97 poker machine venues since coronavirus restrictions eased.

Launceston is one of the state’s biggest poker machine spenders, with the town’s pokies receiving about $1.5 million each month across its 366 machines.

The state government’s Future of Gaming public consultation paper describes the harm minimisation framework in Tasmania as “best practice”.

“Harm minimisation has continued to be front of mind during the development of the changes to be introduced under the new arrangements,” it reads.

The next steps for the legislation will see it introduced into the Tasmanian lower house in 2022.

If it passes the lower house, the upper house will take their turn at scrutinising the legislation.

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