Tasmania could become the first Australian state to ban poker machines from pubs and clubs under new proposals put forward by the Labor party.
The party has pledged to remove poker machines from Tasmanian pubs and clubs over the next five years, if it wins next year’s election.
Labor leader Rebecca White said that after extensive consultation with more than 70 pubs and clubs, as well as key stakeholders throughout the state, Labor is committed to removing all 2,375 poker machines from such venues, and will give notice to Federal Hotels that the current deed allowing poker machines in venues other than casinos will not be extended beyond 2023.
“The gaming deed with Federal Hotels clearly states that the earliest date notice can be given to vary arrangements is July 2018 – we have a once-in-a-generation chance to make the right decision and the right decision is to remove poker machines from our suburbs and towns and keep them in casinos,” White said.
“The Liberals are not willing to make this decision, which is the right one for the economy and the right decision for Tasmanians. The Liberals simplistically think a reduction of the cap by just 150 will ease people’s suffering, when the vast majority of these machines aren’t even in use.”
According to the state’s Liquor and Gaming annual report, Tasmanians lost $110m last year on poker machines in pubs and clubs, which the Labor government said was money that could be better spent in communities supporting small businesses and families.
It also cited a report by economics professor John Mangan, which showed that if just half of those losses from poker machines were diverted to other parts of the economy, more than 180 full time jobs would be created.
Under the Labor proposal, venues with poker machines would have five years to voluntarily retire the machines early and move to new business models under a package of up to $55m to help pubs and clubs transition.
This includes $20m transitional support for venues that choose to surrender their poker machines prior to 2023, a $25m loan pool to provide long term, low-interest loans to businesses transitioning to new business models, $500,000 in grants to sporting clubs, $500,000 in business development advice, and $4m for staff retraining and professional development.
Labor will also establish a Club Sustainability Fund of $5m for clubs to access beyond 2023, in order to ensure important clubs like RSLs can continue to provide services to their community.
The announcement follows the publication of the Social and Economic Impact Study of Gaming In Tasmania, which identified around 8,000 Tasmanians who areconsidered to be problem and moderate risk gamblers, with an estimated social cost of between $37m to $184m each year.
White added that health remains Labor’s number one priority, with a strong focus on preventative health, including the serious issue of gaming addiction.
“A Labor Government is ready to take a stand and that includes putting the welfare of people first while also providing genuine assistance to the workers, owners and operators of the 97 pubs and clubs in Tasmania with poker machines,” she said. “There is no intention to see them close and there were similar claims made when smoking was banned in 2006 – venues did not close and a decade later the sector has never been stronger.
“Research shows more than 80 per cent of Tasmanians want poker machines out of pubs and clubs – I have listened, Labor has listened and we are ready to do the right thing.”