Future Tassie survey: Readers want fewer or no poker machines in Tasmania
THE Tasmanian Government has been urged to pull poker machines out of pubs and clubs after a majority of people surveyed said they wanted fewer or no pokies in the state.
About 44 per cent of Mercury readers responding to our Future Tassie survey voted for fewer pokies than presently available while about 35 per cent said there should be none.
About 19 per cent of the 1362 respondents said the number in the state was about right and fewer than 2 per cent said there should be more.
Anglicare social action and research manager Meg Webb said the figure was the latest in a series of anti-pokies poll results and was “a mandate for decisive action”.
“Tasmanians do not like poker machines in their local community — they know these machines cause harm and deliver no local benefit,” Ms Webb said.
“The Hodgman Government can clearly place the community first by locating poker machines only in casinos.
“They would be acting in the best interests of the community, supported overwhelmingly by the evidence and aligned with the will of the Tasmanian people.”
A Government spokesman said the Liberals maintained their commitment to removing 150 poker machines throughout the state from 2023.
“The framework the Government has committed to deliver will facilitate a sustainable, well-regulated industry that supports freedom of choice, minimises harm and supports jobs,” he said.
Labor went to last year’s state election vowing to have pokies quarantined to casinos but lost to the Liberals, who received the backing of much of the hospitality industry.
An Opposition spokesman said: “Unfortunately we did not win the election and after a considerable period of silence it is now up to the Liberal Government to reveal the details of its poker machine policy.”
The gaming regulator’s latest report showed Tasmanians sunk more than $175 million into poker machines in the last financial year, including more than $19 million in Glenorchy alone.
Federal Group, which holds the monopoly licence for the state’s pokies, nearly doubled its profits in the same period due to a one-off sale of core assets.
Company executive general manager of corporate affairs Daniel Hanna said Tasmanians had already cast their vote on pokies policy in last year’s state election.
POKIES MUST BE DEBATED
LABOR’S proposal to remove poker machines from pubs and clubs across Tasmania might have failed as an election strategy. But the revelation today that a clear majority of Tasmanians want fewer or even no pokies in our state shows the Hodgman Government would be wise to consider some reform.
Labor Leader Rebecca White had hoped her scorched-earth anti-poker machines policy would win over enough voters in the left-leaning Hobart-based seat of Denison to give her a path to becoming the state’s premier in the state election last March. As it was, Liberal candidate Sue Hickey’s personal popularity was enough to carry her across the line in Denison alongside the now-Attorney-General Elise Archer. Labor was then stuck just one seat short of being able to form government, with supply and confidence from the Greens. (And yes, Labor will today deny they were ever going to do such a deal – but are they really fooling anyone?)
Meanwhile, all Ms White’s pokies policy did was fire up the hospitality industry which — correctly — believed the viability of their businesses was under threat. The result was a heavily funded anti-Labor campaign that ensured the Liberals’ message was the dominant one that voters had heard before heading to the ballot box on March 3 last year.
It is unlikely, however, that poker machine reform was the issue that swung the vote to the Liberals. Polling a week out from election day showed that a clear majority of voters across the state (and seven in 10 of those polled in Denison) preferred Labor’s policy on pokies. However, just 14.3 per cent said it was the issue that would influence their vote — and most of that group were rusted-on Labor or Green voters. More than twice that number said health was the thing that would determine how they cast their ballot, and about the same number said it would be the economy.
And so while executives from Federal Group (the company that has a monopoly on poker machines in this state) are entitled to claim — as one does today — that Tasmanians cast their vote on pokies policy in last year’s state election, the truth is they really didn’t.
One thing that is often forgotten is that the Liberals also took a shake-up to poker machines policy to the election. The core of that policy was to end the generous monopoly arrangement, and allow individual venues to operate pokies in pubs and clubs after 2023. The Liberals also committed to removing 150 poker machines from across the state within five years.
Today’s Future Tassie survey result is another example that perhaps Tasmanians would prefer the government moves more quickly, and decisively. Just one in five of the more-than 1300 respondents to the survey — that canvassed a wide range of issues — believed the number of poker machines in Tasmania was “about right” or that there should be more.
And so regardless of the politics that played out at the last election, it is clear there is overwhelming community support for wholesale change in this area. Considering also our state’s unique history in this space, it is important the Government is open and willing to have a proper and transparent discussion about the future of gaming machines here and the details of any future deals underwritten by taxpayers.