Tassie government called on to rethink pokies law changes

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
Tasmanian politicians to debate gaming reform bill

The peak body of Tasmania’s councils has called on the state government to reconsider imposing measures on poker machines such as slow spinning rates and lower maximum bets.

The Advocate reports that the councils and social services body said Tasmania’s proposed gaming legislation has ignored genuine measures to reduce harm caused by poker machines.

Chief executive officer Dion Lester said council feedback indicated there was also the need for mandated regular machine shutdowns in venues and a requirement for losses not to be disguised as near misses during gaming.

He said it was unclear how the proposed amendments in the government’s bill would strengthen harm minimisation.

Mayor calls for greater harm minimisation measures

City of Launceston mayor Albert van Zetten said the bill provided no pathway to harm minimisation for gambling support beyond a proportion of funding from the Community Support Levy.

He said there were about 326 electronic gaming machines spread across the municipality with 38 per cent of these located in low socio-economic suburbs.

Cr van Zetten said the council had concerns that allocating EGM licences to venue owners might make it harder to limit the harm to at-risk gamblers.

“It has been suggested that a single licence model is the best model for Tasmania because the regulator has a greater degree of control over the industry and the new licence model would reduce this level of control and generate greater competition between venues,” he said.

Major Brad Watson, of the Tasmanian Salvation Army branch, said machines played at high intensity could result in the loss of $1200 or more to a person in an hour.

He said maximum bet limits of $1 and slower speeds had been long called for over years, but were not recognised in the proposed legislation.

“Similarly, we note that the proposed amendments do not include specific consumer protection measures, despite evidence that the current mechanisms in place, based on self-exclusion, have not been effective in reducing the harm caused by gambling,” he said.

“Voluntary restrictions rely on a person affected by gambling issues taking a positive action which can easily be frustrated if systems are not supportive of the action.

“Because gambling addiction is an impulse control disorder, the design and implementation of self-exclusion programs is fundamental to their success.”

TasCOSS has also supported a drop in the maximum bet limit, lowering spin speeds and a reduction in the maximum jackpot from $25,000 to $1000.

It wants to see the return to player rates increased from 85 per cent to 95 per cent.

The government in its own summary of the submissions received during consultations stated 69 per cent of them proposed specific harm minimisation measures.

It said five of the 26 submissions recommended harm measures should be included in the bill.

Federal Group weighs in on new government legislation 

The oldest run family casino business in Australia has pushed back against plans to end its exclusive licence to operate poker machines in Tasmania.

Federal Group’s submission to the Future Gaming Markets draft legislation reveals the company is claiming that the earliest date the new gaming arrangements can commence under their agreement with the Crown is July 1, 2026 and overruling would “create a sovereign risk”.

Federal Group said the state government has not properly notified it of the changes and to force them through would be “highly inappropriate”.

Its submission to the legislation, written by executive general manager Daniel Hanna, does not hold back.

In it, Dr Hanna describes the government’s proposal to bring in the changes by 2023, thus voiding its deed with the Crown through legislation, as an “egregious use of the legislative power of the parliament”.

The submission identifies “six general issues of concern”, but the focus is on when the policy comes into play.

According to the company, the 2003 Deed between the Crown and Federal Group includes a Rolling Term that “ensures the company is provided with at least four years’ notice of any changes to the arrangements”.

Under the term, Federal Group argues the arrangements continue “unless the Minister provides formal written notice otherwise”.

It claims the government has yet to do this and if the changes were to take effect on July 1, 2023, “the company should have been provided with a formal written notice by June 30, 2019.”

Dr Hanna writes that as no such notice was given, the earliest end date is now June 30, 2026.

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