Pokies should be removed from suburbs – opinion piece by Meg Webb – Examiner, August 2017

Meg Webb Gambling, News and Media, Opinion Pieces and Public Commentary

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Anglicare has campaigned for decades on the matter of poker machines in Tasmania. We know that these machines are deliberately rigged to win and designed for addiction. They harm people and don’t belong in our communities.

The main counter argument we have faced is that despite the damage caused by poker machines, they are good for business, jobs and the economy.

We are at a cross-roads on this issue in Tasmania, so Anglicare decided it was time to ask, “is this true?”.

Anglicare asked University of Queensland Professor John Manganto have a closer look at the economics of poker machines in Tasmania. His report prepared for the current parliamentary inquiry into Future Gaming Markets used detailed modelling and found that removing poker machines from hotels and clubs would  increase gross state product and create jobs.

Money spent on poker machines does not bring new economic activity to Tasmania; it is money that is lost to other local businesses.

Local spending is more beneficial to the local economy. But if money flows out of the state, as it does via poker machine leases to financiers and dividends to interstate shareholders of Federal Hotels, not only do locals lose money they can least afford, it is also lost to the Tasmanian economy.

Unlike other states, the Tasmanian government is not dependent on taxation from poker machines. Poker machine taxes constitute only 1 per cent of our state revenue. Just over half of this 1 per cent comes from poker machines in hotels and clubs.

Three scenarios were modelled in Professor Mangan’s report to gauge the overall economic impact of removing poker machine from hotels and clubs in Tasmania.  In each of the scenarios the modelling showed that removing poker machines from hotels and clubs would provide a positive benefit to the Tasmanian economy.

Rather than costing jobs, as claimed by the Australian Hotels Association, removing poker machines from hotels and clubs would create up to 670 new jobs for Tasmanians.   The results come as no surprise to Anglicare, nor probably to the majority of Tasmanians sceptical of industry predictions of widespread woe should poker machines be removed from hotels and clubs.

Anglicare believes that the devastating damage caused by poker machines for individuals, families and communities in Tasmania is enough reason for change.

There are powerful industry figures opposing this change.  Industry has long argued their financial interests are also in the economic interests of the state. In his report, Professor Mangan has exploded that myth.  He has made it clear that poker machines do not generate desirable economic activity and do not deserve special deals from the Tasmanian government, or a free pass on the high levels of damage they cause.

A total of 29 hotels and clubs in the North from Deloraine to St Helens with 671 poker machines take $29 million every year from people in our communities.

With almost half the money taken by poker machine coming from those who are addicted and flowing mainly to the sole license holder Federal Hotels and a few groups with multiple venues, it is time to stop pretending poker machines in hotels and clubs provide overall economic benefits. They don’t.

We don’t need pokies.  They should be removed from our suburbs as soon as the current licence agreement expires.

  • Meg Webb is Anglicare Tasmania’s  Social Action and Research Centre manager.