Tasmanian Prime Minister Talks Pokies ahead of Election Day

Gambling reform in Tasmania has been brewing since 2018 and finally, the quasi-monopoly of Federal Group can be broken up, to the benefit of the state, club, and pub owners.

Poker Machines Are the Agenda in Tomorrow’s Elections

Poker machines have been a contentious talking point in any politician’s agenda and Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein is no different. A failure to elicit a public statement on what the premier, who is up for election in Saturday’s general election, considers not the focus of his work, has led to criticism that the state may be missing on a potentially big chunk of revenue.

Yet, the state casino operator, Federal Group, has more or less endorsed Gutwein and argued that the election should not make gambling reform its focus. For better or for worse, though, poker machines have been very much on the agenda since at least 2018, and they have been repeatedly brought up in political discourse.

The debate raged back then, with poker machine deniers promising to remove those products from establishments such as pubs and clubs, but in the end, the Labor party failed to win the state election suspending talks about poker machines in Tasmania for another three years.

However, Gutwein is now facing a new and challenging political landscape, and pokies will be an indelible part of it. Gutwein may as well argue that the present election is not about gambling reform – he’s certainly not telling us the whole truth.

Poker Machines in Tasmania: The Power Brokers

If Gutwein’s chances of success look somewhat dimmer this time around, that is because the Labor party has learned its lesson. Pokies are here to stay and Rebecca White, the party’s leader, has signed a secret memorandum of understanding with the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, vowing to maintain support for poker machines in clubs and pubs.

A proposal pitched by the Liberal government back in 2018 would make a lot of sense whereby the quasi-monopoly of Federal Group over the state’s 3,500 poker machines may finally end. To replace that, licenses will be offered to pub and club owners and as to the state operator, it will retain control of pokies in the 12 hotels and casinos it currently runs.

Change is not just coming for purely political reasons. In fact, there have been many successful pokies projects, such as Pokies.bet, that have provided players with worthwhile alternatives that they don’t have to worry about disappearing and can access pretty much around the clock.

Even the Naysayers See a Way Forward

While anti-pokies sentiment has been high in Australia, or at least particularly vociferous, even campaigners against poker machines have seen a reason to allow them to run. According to Andrew Wilkie, an independent MP, the implementation of a new tax scheme proposed back in 2018 could leave Tasmania $350 million richer every year.

The prime minister, though, has not provided any details on what the new tax rate on pokies could be. He repeatedly shunned the issue during an ABC radio interview. At a press conference later on, though, he assured that the government will carry on changes.

Yet, Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission former boss Peter Hoult has argued that the premier’s refusal to release the information ahead of the election was “just nonsense.”

What Hoult is essentially saying is that it’s necessary for politicians to stop mincing their words that the present election is not about a gambling reform.

Hoult’s argument is that there is no way that the government isn’t already aware of what the proposed tax rate would be, with earlier discussions suggesting to cut down the tax rate from 25% to 10%.

Is This Election about Gambling Reform?

It very well is. However, there will be winners and losers. Federal Group, for one, will lose out on revenue as it would empower clubs and pubs that will drive no small amount of the revenue.

Then again, the government will do better in general, so that is a small price to pay, observers and critics of the present model argue.

Gutwein is confident that the issue can now be put to rest, at least until the time is right. “I’ve made it perfectly clear the poker machine gaming legislation reform was dealt with at the last election,” the premier said for journalists earlier this week.

He has a plan, too, and the discussed changes back in 2018 will be put up for a debate later this year so that pub and club owners may finally receive backing from the government, which Gutwein argues is in the inherent interest of the state in the first place.

With just hours on the clock until Election Day, Tasmanians are about to cast their votes, which will have implications for the poker machines in the state, whether they realize it or not

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