Controversial Tasmania Pokies Bill Moves Forward

A quick internet search for the Tasmania Gaming Control Amendment (Future Gaming Market) Bill 2021 garners two very different results, some very positive and others negative. In an attempt to amend the outdated Gaming Control Act, some members of Parliament say the bill is weak and represents a missed opportunity to make substantive change.

Future Gaming Market Bill in 2018

The Tasmanian government has wanted to do this for years. It first introduced the “Future of Gaming in Tasmania” policy in 2018.

Broadly, the purpose of the project was to create a more sustainable gaming industry while holding it to the highest probity and ethics standards. It would also make sure that industry providers, players, and the community share fairly in the profits. And finally, the bill should minimize gambling harm as much as possible.

How to go about accomplishing these goals was more complicated. It included decreasing the cap for electronic gaming machines (EGMs), authorizing new high-roller casino licenses for non-residents, and more closely monitor EGMs at clubs and hotels.

To figure out how to begin, the Tasmanian Liquor and Gambling Commission first opened a public consultation process. They used that information to draft the framework of a new gambling regulatory model. It included increasing fees and levies across the board to boost revenue and support new gambling harm prevention programs. Higher taxes on casinos, keno, and automated table games would help as well.

Even so, that’s not exactly what happened.

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A Plan Becomes a Bill

All of the ideas and plans became a piece of legislation. It was the first part of changing the laws, and it took a long time to transform the Future of Gaming policy into the Gaming Control Amendment (Future Gaming Market) Bill 2021. Finance Minister Michael Darrel Joseph Ferguson introduced it to the House of Assembly on 27 October 2021.

The stated purpose was to amend the Gaming Control Act 1993 and TT-Line Gaming Act 1993. Nearly 30 years after those acts, the updated bill would modernize them.

The 249-page bill detailed the changes. Overall, the bill will end Deed for Federal Group exclusivity agreements for casino operations, EGMs, and keno on 30 June 2023. The rights to operate EGMs in clubs and hotels would move to a venue operator model on 1 July 2023. Network monitoring licenses would be publicly tendered.

Detailed Legislative Updates

In more detail, the bill would amend the Gaming Control Act 1993 in numerous ways.

  • The federal government will no longer have a monopoly on casino and EGM operations.
  • Hotels and clubs may obtain licenses based on existing EGM numbers.
  • The Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission will oversee EGM reallocations.
  • One entity or group can control no more than 587 authorities.
  • Cap the number of EGMs at 180 for casinos and 350 for hotels and clubs.
  • Add ring-fencing and other restrictions for Licensed Monitoring Operators (LMOs) to operate network monitoring licenses to minimize potential conflicts of interest with venue owners.
  • Put initial network monitoring licenses for EGMs out to public tender, as overseen by the Department of Treasury and Finance.
  • Institute new regulatory and financial arrangements for non-resident high-roller casino licences.
  • Amend regulatory and financial arrangements for casino and keno licenses, as well as fully automated table games.
  • Enable 20-year time frames for all licenses.
  • Allow license holders to apply for renewals up to five years prior to the expiration date.
  • Collect the Community Support Levy from EGM revenue at 3% from casinos, 4% from clubs, and 5% from hotels.
  • Replace the current levy distribution model with the Community Support Levy with new weightings to promote flexibility per funding priorities.
  • Allow for more effective transitions from single-gaming operators to the new individual operator model.
  • Allow totalizer operators to run simulated racing events in hotels, clubs, and totalizer outlets.

Concerns from TasCOSS

The Tasmanian Council of Social Service took issue with the bill in that pubs and clubs will benefit the most from the changes. In fact, the group fears that the new revenue distribution model will simply redistribute player losses throughout the industry while not mentioning or increasing the Return to Player (RTP) levels.

TasCOSS recommended that Tasmanian communities themselves should determine where EGMs will be located. Those communities should see a more consistent level of revenue distribution, as well as increased efforts to reduce gambling harm, both existing and potential.

Lawmaker Concerns

One lawmaker who has consistently held the gambling industry to account is Independent Member Andrew Wilke. As one might have guessed, he was not a fan of this bill, as he felt that much more could have been done with it.

Wilke said, “This will surely go down in Tasmanian political history as one of the great missed opportunities of our generation. The Upper House MPs who unconscionably waved through these so-called reforms should hang their heads in shame.”

He asserted that the bill will give operators an upper hand, with the value of their venues increasing when they obtain their own licenses. In addition, he claimed that the bill will misdirect hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue that should have gone to the Tasmanian people for schools and hospitals. And lawmakers left out many measures that could have reduced gambling harm.

“This is what happens when you let the poker machine industry write government policy in return for the darkest of political donations,” Wilke added.

Next Steps for Future Gaming Market

The bill moved along rather smoothly through the Tasmanian Parliament. It had its first reading in the House of Assembly on 12 October and passed its third reading on 27 October. And after a 28 October first reading in the Legislative Council, it reached and passed its third reading on 24 November.

Finance Minister Michael Ferguson marked the bill’s passage by Parliament on 25 November. He hailed the end of the Federal Group monopoly and more money for essential services like health and education. He noted job security for pub employees and more support for problem gamblers.

The next step puts the law into the hands of the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission. It will advise the government regarding options for implementation of a new gambling harm minimisation measure. That will be a card-based identification system that will allow players to set gaming loss limits prior to visiting gambling venues. The regulator will present its proposal for implementing that new system.

 

Rose Varrelli avatar
Rose Varrelli
Senior Casino & News Writer

Hi there! I’m Rose, and with nine years behind me in the iGaming industry, I craft engaging narratives at CasinoAus. My education in Communication across Europe has sharpened my skills in fintech, casino legislation, and digital marketing. Backed by a strong foundation in SEO, storytelling, and cross-cultural communication, I’m passionate about creating content that resonates globally and educates our audience.