Tasmanian government to impose gambling limitations, but some say ‘real problem gamblers’ will find a way around

For several decades, on and off, Michael Kunz has been playing the pokies.

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.

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