Mayor calls for major study into pokies’ impact

BRIGHTON Mayor Tony Foster has called for a new comprehensive study into the social and economic impact of poker machines on the Tasmanian community.

Mayor Foster says previous studies and anecdotal evidence point to gambling on poker machines as having a significant adverse effect on Tasmanian families, small business and general economic activity. The public is entitled to the most up-to-date information to enable it to make an informed judgement.

Cr Foster said the Brighton Council had long been opposed to the introduction of poker machines in hotels and clubs and was concerned at the impact this form of gambling was having, particularly on small and regional communities.

“The current monopoly situation means that all the money lost goes out of local communities and this impacts on families, small businesses and the community in general,” he said.

“Although State Treasury publishes some detail, it restricts the provision of information on individual venues and smaller municipalities, so it is difficult to gain a clear picture.

“I have written to Treasurer Peter Gutwein seeking specific information on the impact of poker machines on the Brighton community and while my correspondence has been acknowledged, I am yet to receive a detailed reply.

“But I suspect the impact is substantial.

“Based on the best advice we can obtain, well in excess of $2 million is lost on the pokies in Brighton each year and obviously the figure is considerably larger where there are higher concentrations of poker machines.”

Cr Foster said the social and economic harm resulting from gambling on poker machines was a major problem for Tasmania and it was one the State Government needed to address.

“The problems haven’t changed, only increased in their magnitude.

“Had previous governments not succumbed to the promise of increased revenue and other sweeteners back in the early 1990s, we wouldn’t have the severe social issues we have today.

“The reality is that the the adverse impacts of poker machines go considerably beyond problem gambling.

“Where incomes are low, money spent gambling on poker machines can mean that families go without food, medical treatment, heating and other basic, even vital necessities, as well as subjecting many to domestic violence.

“This is unacceptable and must be addressed.

“The first step must be a comprehensive study to understand the facts and then a planned reduction in the number and placement of poker machines in hotels and clubs.

“If this occurred, millions of dollars would be returned to the community and families, small businesses, as well as the State economy would be the beneficiaries.

“I also believe the monopoly situation is unhealthy and is not in the best interests of Tasmania. The study should closely examine this and consider alternatives if we are to have electronic gaming machines outside the casinos.

Cr Foster said Brighton’s call was realistic and certainly not radical.

“Indeed, it is line with the submission made by Federal Hotels to the 1993 Legislative Council Select Committee Inquiry into the Extension of Video Gaming Machines beyond the Hobart and Launceston Casinos.

“At that time, when it appeared that hotels and clubs would be in competition with his company, Federal Hotel’s Director Greg Farrell argued strongly that poker machines should not be allowed in Tasmania’s pubs and clubs.

“He said that the money gambled on gaming machines ‘would represent a redirection of household disposable income and the impact on restaurants, theatres, cinemas and retail would be disastrous’.

“He also pointed to the social impacts and stated that ‘direct access to gaming machines in pubs and clubs would have a disastrous effect on the social and special culture of Tasmania’.

“It seems Mr Farrell’s attitude changed once his company gained the monopoly on poker machines in Tasmania. If anything, the impacts he warned of are even worse.”

Cr Foster said with debate now occurring on the extension of Federal Hotels’ casino and gaming machine monopoly, the community was entitled to all the facts and to have its say on whether or not the current arrangements should continue.