Poker machine debate takes on two sides

A new report has suggested that there are discrepancies around the economical impact if poker machines were to disappear from Tasmania.

Hobart-based The Australia Institute produced the report, in the midst of the state’s Tasmanian Joint Select Committee on Future Gaming Markets inquiry.

The institute suggests that the employment numbers relating to gambling lean more towards the 1500 jobs recently reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as opposed to the 4000 detailed in state government reports.

The report goes on to argue that the cost of poker machine-related problem gambling sits far and above the revenues received from the machines – that’s $184 million (in 2011) versus $53.4 million (in 2016).

The government has refuted the report and its figures around employment, citing research and reports from a consulting firm in 2015.

It went on to brand the institute as Greens-leaning, in reference to the Greens’ long-held views that poker machines are detrimental to Tasmania and Tasmanians.

It is another case of pitting report against report; figures against figures.

The gambling industry, and pokies in particular, is such a multi-faceted beast in Tasmania, it is hard to know which set of eyes to stare into first.

If we are to make a decision on the future of the machines in Tasmania, we need to decide on which basis we are going to do it.

It could be a pure numbers-based decision, weighing up the cost of problem gambling on pokies, versus the revenue that they feed into the economy.

But does that pay no heed to those people whose lives are devastatingly impacted by problem gambling that stems from pokies?

Would we then be taking the line of “for the greater good”, and placing the needs of many above the needs of the 0.5 per cent of adult Tasmanians who identified as problem gamblers?

Or, do we decide that the revenue is too much to pass up, taking into those employed in the industry who could be left jobless?

The decision around the future of poker machines in the state won’t be easy, and not everyone will be happy. It is a testament to our conscious as a community that we are pushing ahead with it regardless, through the joint select committee.

Hopefully the state as a whole comes out ahead.