The Premier, Will Hodgman, appeared to confuse crucial details about a key element of his government’s pokies policy, a plan to break up the monopoly over the machines currently enjoyed by the Federal Group, and grant the rights to the machines to the owners of the pubs and clubs they are currently installed in.
Critics have said this would massively increase the value of the establishments, and equates to a free gift from taxpayers of between $150 and $250 million to pub owners, including the Federal Group, which owns several of the most profitable pokies pubs in the state.
Asked why he planned to give away such lucrative licenses during an interview with The Examiner on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Hodgman twice insisted that the government was putting the pokies out to tender, and that a fair price would be achieved for Tasmanian taxpayers.
Asked if it was true that rather than being put up to tender the rights to the machines were being given to the pub and club owners, Mr Hodgman said:
“That is entirely untrue. We will make sure Tasmania gets the best possible deal. We are for the first time opening for tender the future of gambling or gaming.”
Asked how much it would raise, Mr Hodgman said it “would need to go through that process.”
“We are breaking a monopoly that was struck by a Labor government that was appallingly handled,” he said.
But a short time later a staff member from the premier’s office rang to “clarify” the premier’s comments. He said the premier had not meant that the licenses for the machines would be put out to tender, but the networking operations that control them.
Under the current operation Network Gaming - a subsidiary of Federal Group - performs this operation and receives 30 percent of pokies losses for this service. This amount would be reduced to two percent under the proposed Liberal model.
“It is outrageous that Will Hodgman doesn’t understand his own policy about such a critical element of the poker machine deal that his party has put together,” said an activist with Bad Bets Australia, Pat Caplice.
“The value of the licenses going to pokies pubs for free is $250 million. Greg Farrell [owner of The Federal Group] disagrees, he says the licenses are only worth $150 million, but he agrees that they are being given free to the pubs.
“Regardless of your position on pokies, the Liberals are contemplating gifting up to $250 million worth of state assets to - in the main - the six families and groups who are in control of over 60 of Tasmania’s 89 pokies pubs. It is outrageous.”
A spokesman for the Premier later told Fairfax Media the Liberals had consistently said they would put the network out to tender, not the licences.