Removing poker machines doesn’t mean venues will go broke, says a New South Wales publican who has made the gambling free switch for his hotel.
The Tathra Hotel co-owner Cliff Wallis made the decision to take out poker machines and TAB betting facilities last year.
His comment followed a Tasmanian Labor Party announcement committing to the removal of poker machines from clubs and pubs over five years if it wins a majority government.
The plan has received a mixed reaction from the public and stakeholders.
On Saturday, the state government came out swinging, with Bass Liberal MHA Sarah Courtney saying the move would drive the budget into deficit and affect jobs.
“It defies logic that Labor wants to spend tens of millions of dollars hurting small business and costing jobs on a policy that will have minimal impact on alleviating problem gambling,” Ms Courtney said.
She denied receiving any personal donations from the Federal Group, which has exclusive rights over electronic gaming machines in Tasmania, and referred questions about donations to the Liberal Party to the state director.
When asked whether pubs and clubs across the state could make the poker machine-free transition similar to The Tathra Hotel, she said the state government believed in Tasmanians having a choice of what they wanted to do with their time and money.
"Having pokies in a venue is a matter for the operator, it's not a matter for government to tell businesses how to run their businesses. We know that 99.5 per cent of Tasmanians gamble responsibly.”
Opposition Leader Rebecca White disagreed, saying the state government willfully allowed Tasmanians to lose $110 million each year to gambling.
Gambling was a widespread community issue, affecting more than just problem gamblers, she said.
“It defies belief that (the state government) could be so ignorant of the heartache being experienced every day by Tasmanian families as poker machines have spread throughout our communities,” Ms White said.
Back in Tathra, Mr Wallis said some people did object for five to six weeks after the decision, but the move had a mostly positive response since it was enforced about a month ago following renovations.
“When we took the poker machines out, a lot of people were saying we’d go broke and you couldn’t survive in hotels without poker machines … I get a sense from people who are coming that they want to disprove that theory,” he said.
“We turned the hotel on a totally different track.”