Tasmania has been warned that the planned reorganisation of the gambling sector may make it more susceptible to corruption at a time when local pubs are encouraged to surrender their poker machines operating licences and help the government tackle gambling-related harm.
Early in 2020, the Liberal Government is set to make some serious changes to the casino gaming and pokies regime that is expected to cause serious turmoil in the local gambling industry as it is set to put an end to the Federal Group’s monopoly that has lasted for nearly half a century. The Hodgman government has not revealed all details regarding the upcoming changes but, reportedly, some of the guiding policy provisions are set to leave previous commitments related to allocation and price of poker machines operating licences behind.
Apart from that, no commitment to offer two high-roller casino licences to the open market is set to be made. Instead, the competent authorities have promised to grant one of them to David Walsh, the founder of the Museum of Old and New Art.
A number of gambling experts, however, have shared their belief that the fact there would not be market mechanisms regulating the significant licensing streams could create some turmoil in the sector, as it could prevent the new gambling regime of Tasmania to apply from 2023.
The New Gambling Policy of the State Government Faces Criticism
The head of the Gambling and Social Determinants unit at the Monash University, Charles Livingstone, has criticised the states’ gambling policy, saying that the tendency to do deals “behind closed doors” is one of the negative sides of the policy. Mr Livingstone further noted that everything about the new gambling policy needs to be transparent to prevent corruption, money laundering and any other harms that could be associated with the change.
He also said that David Walsh unveils a good business plan and manages to persuade the people who are reviewing tenders that his offer is the best, then he is to receive the first one of the two high-roller casino operating licences in the state of Tasmania. If he could not do that, then someone else should get it.
The approaching expiry of Federal Group’s monopoly ownership of pokies in pubs and casinos across Tasmania triggered the new gambling regime in the state that was confirmed by the Hodgman Liberal government in 2016. At the time when it confirmed the upcoming regime changes, the government pledged that it would allocate and price the rights to operate poker machines in local clubs and pubs by a market-based mechanism after 2023.
However, that commitment seems to have been left behind. According to Dr Livingston, such a decision of the government could strip the state of an estimated $250 million that might have been raised as a result of a market-based mechanism. Instead, the government, backed by Federal Group, as well as by local clubs and pubs, expects to achieve improved returns for taxpayers thanks to a higher tax rate imposed on hotel-based pokies and poker machines’ annual licence fees.