DEAR Mr Gutwein [Tasmanian Treasurer],
I applaud your intention to have an “open and transparent” discussion about poker machine licencing in Tasmania. I was especially glad to see you have included the important topic of harm minimisation as a key focus.
I am buoyed because I believe you have an unprecedented opportunity to effect real lasting change in the lives of thousands of Tasmanians.
With a GST windfall meaning that state debt can be paid off earlier than previously anticipated, a low Australian dollar helping exporters and a more robust economy, the state is positioned to once and for all wean itself off pokie tax revenue.
With the Liberals likely to win another term in power you can, free from political cycle pressures, prepare for such a reform right up to the 2023 relicensing date. This could usher in a new era in government attitudes to gambling, where protection of vulnerable Tasmanians is put ahead of profits and the bottom line.
This opportunity may not come again. I encourage you to reflect on the many lives that could be impacted for good and to seize the day.
Pokies continue to wreak havoc in Tasmania’s neediest communities. I am sure you find it abhorrent as
I do that poker machines are deliberately concentrated in our poorest regions.
They suck up to $2 million a month from our most disadvantaged suburbs — money that should have been spent on clothing, groceries and birthday presents.
Pokies cause the highest losses of all forms of gambling and nearly half of their takings come from problem or moderate risk gamblers.
The machines are programmed to ensure that the gambler loses and to deliberately entice gamblers to continue playing.
Australian pokies are the most voracious in the world with respect to the rate at which they strip money from gamblers.
The recent ABC documentary Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation uncovered the methods pokie designers use. Alluring graphics, sounds, lights and music are engineered to exploit how the brain works by triggering chemicals (like dopamine) at similar levels to those exhibited in the brains of those with severe drug addiction.
No wonder they have been called the electronic morphine and crack cocaine of gambling.
You may be aware that gambling disorder is found alongside cocaine and heroin in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
In conjunction with the makers of the documentary, I am planning a special public screening of Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation in parliament this month. We will have an expert panel to answer questions afterwards. I hope you are able to be involved.
One only needs to look at the wreckage meted out to families of pokie addicts and the community-at-large to agree that the comparison with hard drugs is not far off the mark. These include broken families, deprived children and, in extreme cases, suicide. And the community (usually via the government) must pick up the costs of providing for the victims as well as costs due to lost productivity, bankruptcy, fraud and the prosecution and incarceration of offenders.
Studies show that for every person with a gambling problem, another five to 10 people are affected, meaning about 27,000 Tasmanians are bearing the brunt. This number includes an estimated 2000 children.
Something has to be done. I hope that you can rise to champion their cause.
Pokie harms could be significantly averted with a few simple policy changes.
People have been talking for years about mandatory $1 bet limits and the huge difference they would make for problem gamblers.
New community alliances, national and local, are pushing for these kinds of reforms. Why can’t Tassie lead the way? Of course, there will be the expected opposition, but surely we have a moral obligation to help the most vulnerable.
The experience from Victoria in 2008 can offer us hope. The Victorian government of the day dropped bet limits significantly in a very short period and with minimal contention.
Mr Gutwein, I pray that you will have the courage and wisdom necessary to see the opportunity before you.
I ask that you seize the day and ensure a brighter future for the many desperate Tasmanians affected by pokie addiction.
By ACL Tasmanian Director Mark Brown. Published in the Tasmanian Mercury 7 March 2016.