For several decades, on and off, Michael Kunz has been playing the pokies.
- Hotel owners say the Tasmanian government’s proposed pokies cards will “penalize” non-addicts
- Andrew Wilkie expects the gaming industry to strongly resist the Australian-first reforms
- The Tasmanian government says the reforms are balanced, but will consult with the hospitality industry
Sitting in the gaming lounge at the Westbury Hotel in Northern Tasmania, he said he had never let his gambling become a problem.
“I don’t do it heavily, sometimes twice a week, but I don’t spend a lot,” he said.
“I put limits on myself, and hopefully, I walk away winning.”
He does not want the imposing government limits on how many players can gamble.
“I think it’s over-regulation by government. Like everything else, they’re trying to fix something that really doesn’t need fixing. It works at the moment,” he said.
The Tasmanian government has announced it will introduce an Australian-first mandatory pre-commitment card for pokies players, which will limit the amount people can spend on the machines to $5,000 per year.
The cards are set to be brought in by the end of 2024, and will only allow players to lose $100 per day, or $500 a month.
Publican at the Westbury Hotel James Neal said Mr Kunz is one of the 99 per cent of players at his hotel for whom gambling on the pokies was not a problem.
He believes the cards will penalize those players, and won’t help gambling addicts.
“The real problem gamblers, that 1 per cent, will find a way around it,” he said.
“They will accost general customers to buy them a card. I can see it happening now.
“You’re going to push the real 1 percent of online gamblers. Now, how much control is there in an online gambling environment? Zero. Tick a box, 18, put in a credit card and play 24/7.”
Mr Neal conceded the changes would likely impact his bottom line, but insisted that it was not the point.
He said the best way to reduce harm for problem players was to better fund the current system.
“Staff are trained to identify problem gamblers, to offer assistance and paraphernalia to direct them to a gambling line,” he said.
“To improve it, you work on staff training, you work on the systems once that problem gambler has been identified.
“We see these people all day, every day. We know what their spending habits, and we know if they’re unusual.”
Resistance will be ‘ferocious’
Hobart-based Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said these were the same arguments the gambling industry had been using for years to crush gambling reform.
“I expect the resistance to this, from the industry, to be ferocious,” he said.
“For them, it’s all about the holy dollar, and them wanting to protect their profits, which are in large part paid for by gambling addicts.”
Mr Wilkie said at any time there were about 100,000 pokies addicts in Australia, and while it was true they made up a small proportion of total players, they contributed 40 percent of the total losses on machines.
He described the proposed reforms as “wonderful”, but warned the Tasmanian government the industry would not surrender that revenue without a fight.
“The state government needs to be strong, and needs to not buckle under the enormous amount of resistance that it should expect to encounter,” he said.
“Not just from the Tasmanian poker machine industry, but from the Australian poker machine industry.
“On the mainland, they will be all too aware that this is a national precedent. This is something I would liken to a crack in the wall.
“If it can be done here successfully, and the data backs it up over time, then I would expect to see this reproduced in other states and territories on the mainland.”
He said part of that pressure would be a wave of advertising, which would focus heavily on a person’s right to choose when and where they spent their money.
That line, he said, was pivotal in killing similar national reform he proposed in 2011-12, but hoped the public was now awake to it.
“These days we know that if you have a dangerous product, then it is in the public interest to put safeguards on that product,” he said.
Government doing ‘the right thing’
Minister Guy Barnett said the government was “entirely set” on bringing in the cards, even in the face of industry pressure, and believed the reforms struck the “right balance”.
“We’re doing what we believe is the right thing to do,” he said.
“Of course, there will need to be meaningful engagement and consultation and engagement with the hospitality in the coming months and years, and that is a priority for our government.”
On the streets of the northern suburb of Hobart, Glenorchy, the sentiment appeared to support Mr Wilkie’s theory that the public supports change.
“It’s vulnerable people who normally get hit the hardest,” one passer-by, Brett, told the ABC.
“When people don’t have a limit they tend to spend money that they don’t have.”
Laura shared a similar point of view.
“It is up to people’s personal choice, but it’s good to have a barrier that people have a limit that they can afford,” she said.
But for Colin, the measures don’t go far enough.
“People shouldn’t be able to play poker machines. They’re an offensive form of gambling,” he said.