Anti-gambling activists have welcomed Tasmanian Labor’s pledge to remove all 2375 poker machines from the state’s pubs and clubs by 2023 if it wins power at the upcoming state election.
Leader Rebecca White said yesterday that a Labor government elected at March’s state poll would give notice to gambling giant Federal Hotels that the current deed allowing the ‘one-armed bandits’ in venues other than casinos would not be extended beyond 2023.
The present deal, which gives the group monopoly control over poker machines in the state, expires next year but is subject to a five-year phase-out clause.
Leading Tasmanian anti-pokies campaigner and Hobart Wesley Uniting Faith Community member Dr James Boyce welcomed the decision.
He said it was based on a mountain of evidence detailing the damage pokies cause to individuals and communities in the island state.
“It is a big moment in Tasmania’s history, and Australia’s, as I believe it is the first time in the country a major party has gone to an election with a policy to roll back pokies,”’ he said.
Dr Boyce said the prevalence of pokies in pubs and clubs is so insidious that virtually every Tasmanian knows someone who has been affected, either directly or as a family member of a problem gambler.
Recent studies suggest approximately 8000 Tasmanians are considered to be problem gamblers.
The Synod of Victoria and Tasmaina is a member of the Community Voice on Pokies Reform, (CVPR) formed in November 2015 in response to public debate about the future of poker machines in Tasmania.
A CVPR submission to the recent Tasmanian parliamentary inquiry into the future of pokies in the state argued that pokies should be removed from pubs and clubs and only allowed, in a modified form, in the two casinos.
Tasmanian UCA members have signed a petition organised by the group to show public support for removing pokies from pubs and clubs.
Labor’s position is diametrically opposed to that of the state Liberal Government, which has said it will not remove pokies from pubs and clubs.
Ms White said Labor decided on the policy after extensive consultation with community groups, taking into account the harm that pokers machines cause.
She said Tasmanians lost $110 million on poker machines in pubs and clubs last financial year.
“That money could be better spent in our communities supporting small business and families,” she said.
“The harmful impacts of poker machine gambling are widespread. They affect an individual’s health, their family, relationships and work.”
Ms White said Labor would give venues five years to voluntarily retire poker machines early as well as a $55 million package to help them transfer to new business models.