By TONY FOSTER
THE Brighton Council had long been concerned at the impact of poker machines on our community.
Indeed, when the machines were rolled out to hotels and clubs statewide some two decades ago, Council refused to allow their installation in our municipality. This decision was upheld by the Planning Commission, but subsequently overturned by the State Government’s Gaming Control Act.
So today, we have some 60 poker machines at two venues in Brighton and because of the way data is provided, it is difficult to actually quantify the real social and economic impact on our community.
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 and the impact is greater on smaller and regional communities like Brighton. The current monopoly situation means that all the money lost goes out of the local community and this impacts significantly.
Although State Treasury publishes some information, it restricts the provision of detail 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 in centres where there are higher concentrations of poker machines.
As a consequence, I am now calling for a new comprehensive study into the social and economic impact of poker machines on the Tasmanian community.
Make no mistake, the social and economic harm resulting from gambling on poker machines is a major problem for Tasmania and it is one the State Government must address.
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 tackled by the State Government.
The first step must be a comprehensive study to understand the facts, followed by a planned reduction in the number and placement of poker machines in hotels and clubs. If the number of poker machines is reduced, millions of dollars will be returned to the community and families, small businesses, as well as the State economy will be the beneficiaries.
I also believe the current 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.
With the State Government now considering the extension of Federal Hotels’ casino and poker machine monopoly, the community is entitled to all the facts and to have its say on whether or not the current arrangements should continue.