The City of Launceston has urged the state government to release its policy behind its poker machine reform bill to enable a transparent debate, and for meaningful harm minimisation to be included to protect disadvantaged communities.
Councillors voted this week to approve its submission to the second stage of consultation on the government's Future of Gaming in Tasmania process, having sat out the first round as part of a "watching brief".
The submission notes that disadvantaged suburbs have a higher rate of poker machine presence, including Rocherlea which has 27 machines per 1000 people, compared with an average of 5.6 per 1000 for wider Launceston.
Councillor Andrea Dawkins spoke on the submission, and started by quoting Premier Peter Gutwein when he first entered Parliament 18 years ago. In a speech on May 29, 2003, Mr Gutwein described the poker machine reform process as "not about democracy", but "about stealth, secrecy, and a government not willing to be transparent or accountable".
Cr Dawkins said it was disappointing that the government was yet to release its policy behind the current reform bill, and the process had, again, lacked transparency.
She said the community support levy - the main component of Tasmania's harm minimisation framework - had become a "slush fund" and was ineffective in reducing harm. She urged the government to change the way the machines operate.
"It's not to say that there's not going to be pokies in the future, of course there are, do I want there to be, well not much, but if I did have a choice I think we could change the way those poker machines work," Cr Dawkins said.
"We could reduce them so there could be a $1 bet limit, that seems reasonable, people can still play and have all of the enjoyment, but they get to reduce their losses."
In June this year - the most recent available data - more than $1.46 million was lost at poker machines in Launceston, not including the casino. Losses spiked in the immediate aftermath of the COVID emergency period in early-to-mid 2020.
Cr Dawkins' suggestions for further harm minimisation methods - slower spin speeds, reduced jackpot limits, prohibiting "near miss" addictive responses and regular machine shutdowns - were not included in the council's submission as they did not receive wide support from other councillors.
Councillor Rob Soward said he had concerns that the government's plans to provide pokies licenses to individual venues would further burden operators.
He said he was concerned at a lack of a "pathway" to harm minimisation.
"It's not as some might want us to think, some sort of nanny-type thing, it's really really important that we do have a say on this particular bill and the processes behind it," Cr Soward said.
"It is crucial because the cost of problem gambling is well documented."
Councillor Hugh McKenzie said it was concerning that pokies venues were disproportionately in more disadvantaged areas of Launceston.
"What really hit it home to me, how hard this hits, was during the pandemic when the hotels were closed and people were getting JobSeeker and JobKeeper, and the minute the hotels reopened, the actual amount of money that went into the poker machines went through the roof," he said.
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