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Pokies pub’s bid to extend its trading hours is simply obscene

By July 11, 2022No Comments

Poker machines, and the devastation they cause, is back in the news with the Claremont Hotel wanting to extend poker machine playing until four in the morning. It is obscene.

Of course the application needs to be turned down flat. If the Glenorchy Council can’t or won’t reject the application, the government should legislate poker machine trading hours.  

Have you heard of the “Golden Mile”? It refers to the string of half a dozen or so pokie pubs that stretch along the main road between Moonah and Claremont; but the only “golden” thing about it is the river of gold it returns to the poker machine industry: nearly two million dollars a month, just from venues in the Glenorchy municipality.

I know what I’m talking about. I was an alderman on the Glenorchy City Council from 2011 to 2021, as mayor from 2014, and now I’m a member in state parliament with my electorate office on Main Road Glenorchy, right in the middle of this “Golden Mile”.

For over a decade I’ve witnessed the dreadful damage that poker machine addiction causes to individuals and families, and the tragic consequences of ripping $2 million dollars every month out of this largely working and welfare-dependent community.

My community.

Now the Claremont Hotel has applied to extend its operating hours to 4am, mirroring fellow golden-miler the Elwick Hotel, which has been open to 4am for several years.

A few months ago I visited the Elwick at 2am on a Monday morning to see for myself who could possibly be playing the pokies at that hour. There were a dozen or so people totally transfixed by the machines. That’s not recreation: no one plays pokies at that hour of the morning unless they are addicted.

These are real people, experiencing real harm, and the Claremont Hotel wants a piece of that action. How disgusting.

It galls me that the poker machine industry and their political partners – by that I mean the entire Labor and Liberal parties – glibly promote the pokies as a form of entertainment while doing everything they can to turn pokie players into problem gamblers.

The sad reality of the gaming machine industry is that the business model has nothing to do with pokies as harmless fun but on creating then retaining problem gamblers. The industry barons know this, but it suits them to push the “entertainment” shtick. And apparently they still sleep at night.

Opening hours for poker machine venues need to be wound back. That aside, there are two further opportunities right now that our politicians could grasp that would reduce poker machine harm.

The first is to tighten up the Responsible Gambling Mandatory Code of Practice which is currently under review by the Liquor and Gaming Commission, in particular areas of the Code relating to advertising, inducements and player loyalty programs.

In my view, there is no reasonable case to be made to allow gaming machine advertising as it is impossible to protect children, vulnerable people or those at risk of problem gambling. Likewise, venues must be prevented from offering free vouchers, tokens or reward points that can be redeemed for gambling or “prizes” such as meals or drinks as these incentives target those who are spending and losing the most amount of money.

The Gaming Commission needs to accept that there is no safe level of gaming machine advertising, player inducement or player loyalty programs, and the politicians need to legislate to ban these practices.

The second opportunity is to introduce a “universal” or mandatory pre-commitment card. This requires all pokie players to set playing time limits, expenditure limits, live activity data, self-exclusion, breaks in play and on-screen messaging.

The Treasurer, Michael Ferguson said he would bring in a “universal” pre-commitment scheme should it be recommended by the Liquor and Gaming Commission.

There are pre-commitment schemes elsewhere that have helped gamblers better track their spending, but the cards have very low uptake unless they are mandatory. Victoria has a voluntary opt-in system but take-up is so low it only accounts for 0.1 per cent of gaming machine turnover, while Queensland’s trial found “significant effort” was needed to encourage players to use the cards.

The only option for Mr Ferguson is a mandatory pre-commitment scheme for Tasmania.

So there are three reforms available right now: wind back pokie venue opening hours, ban venue advertising and player incentive schemes, and introduce a mandatory pre-commitment card.

To conclude, as much as these reforms are useful and necessary, they still only play around the margins of real and effective gaming machine reforms. If the aim is genuinely to limit damage then the maximum bet per spin must be reduced from the current $5 to at the most $1, and the spin speed slowed down from three to six seconds.

But the industry won’t stand for it, so the politicians won’t do it.

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