Right to Information documents show the state government didn't assess the potential social and economic impact of reopening gaming venues prior to doing so in June, independent Nelson MLC Meg Webb says.
It comes as the extent of Tasmanians' pokies losses for the month of August was laid bare in Treasury figures released today, showing a 20 per cent increase on expenditure when compared to the same month last year.
In August 2020, Tasmanians lost $18,554,436 on electronic gaming machines, a 19.8 per cent jump on the $15,476,406 lost in August 2019.
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Ms Webb blasted the state government for what she said amounted to a "negligent and careless attitude" towards vulnerable Tasmanians with a gaming addiction.
The MLC said the Treasury and Finance Department's decision on her RTI request was proof that social and economic impact assessments were not undertaken before the government lifted coronavirus restrictions to stage three, which saw the doors of pokies pubs and clubs thrust open once more.
"This is despite the Gutwein Liberal government being presented with evidence there were considerable risks other than only public health hygiene considerations should access to poker machines resume during the COVID-19 pandemic," Ms Webb said.
"Despite evidence from the Global Financial Crisis experience, specific assessment of the risks were not undertaken to inform that decision.
"[Premier Peter Gutwein] was warned COVID-19 would increase pressure on Tasmanians with pokies addictions and any decisions to lift access restrictions required more than only public health hygiene considerations."
In her RTI application, Ms Webb requested details of any analysis undertaken in relation to potential social and economic risks of reopening pokies venues and the affect renewed pokies access could have on the "intent and effectiveness" of JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments.
"As it was a decision taken by the Department of Health to allow the reopening of poker machine gaming rooms (along with many other businesses and services which were required to temporarily close), Treasury does not hold any relevant information to actively or otherwise disclose in relation to analysis or stakeholder consultation," an RTI officer wrote in response to Ms Webb.
A government spokesperson said gaming venues were reopened on health advice, just as other types of venues were.
"Border closures and COVID-related restrictions has reduced the range of alternative recreational activities available, which may result in expenditure being diverted to gaming activities," they said.
"Tasmania's harm minimisation framework is regarded as one of the leading in Australia and includes the Responsible Gambling Mandatory Code of Practice for Tasmania, which has been in place since 2012."
Meanwhile, Andrew Wilkie, the independent member for the federal seat of Clark, today revealed the case of a woman with an intellectual disability who had lost her "food money" in a poker machine at the Federal Group-owned Elwick Hotel in Glenorchy this week.
Mr Wilkie was joined by Salvation Army Glenorchy City Corps officer Jeff Milkins, who said the woman had told him she had "put her food money into a machine and it didn't come back out".
"Thankfully she was only allowed $5 that day," he said. "She was so upset that she had lost her food money. We fed her, calmed her down, made contact with her carer and made sure she headed home."
Mr Wilkie said the pokies industry was "ruthless and predatory".
"To learn that the industry would stoop so low as to steal the lunch money from somebody who is basically a child sets a new low," he said.
But Federal Group executive general manager Daniel Hanna cited the office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in saying that it was discriminatory to "refuse access to a person based on their physical or mental impairment".
"The commission's Equal Opportunity Tasmania website specifically states it is illegal to discriminate against a person with disability in a hotel or pub," Dr Hanna said.
"It is a slippery slope for retail and hospitality workers, or indeed any service provider, to make assessments about a person's intellectual or physical ability."
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