Tasmanian opposition still unsure what to make of government’s pokies limits

Tasmanian Labor has not yet reached a position on whether it supports the state government’s mandatory pre-commitment scheme for poker machines, with one frontbencher appearing unsure of what to say when asked about it.

Bass MP Janie Finlay was asked at a press conference in Launceston on Monday whether Labor supported the card-based scheme under which poker machine users would have to set bet limits before they start gambling.

Ms Finlay initially appeared unsure of what to say, and, when pressed again, took advice before returning to answer the question.

“This is not a Tasmanian Labor failing at the moment, it’s me,” she said before getting advice.

When she returned, she said: “Tasmanian Labor are really clear — we’ve always supported harm minimization and, in fact, we were advocates for card-based play.”

“We want to really understand the report, understand what’s going to be implemented, and to actually make sure that the minister who has made this announcement will actually follow through.”

Ms Finlay was also unable to say whether an agreement between Labor and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association (THA) on pokies remained in place.

Later on Monday, Opposition Leader Rebecca White told ABC Radio Hobart the party was not struggling with pokies policy.

“We’ve always supported improving harm minimization … what we have said is we’re going to take the time to read that report and to understand the detail of how it will be implemented,” she said.

The party later clarified that there was no current agreement, and that the party would develop its position on the pre-commitment scheme after reading the relevant documents.

Independent Nelson MLC Meg Webb, a long-time anti-pokies campaigner, said the government’s plan, announced on Friday, was a “genuine effort” to improve harm minimization measures in Tasmania.

“It’s evidence-based, its recommended by the [Tasmanian Liquor and] Gaming Commission — there should be no question that all political leaders should be out supporting this as a positive way forward,” Ms Webb said.

“Perhaps Labor have been taken by surprise by this announcement by the government and they are — as they have been for some years now — all at odds about what they really think about poker machines in this state.”

Janie Finlay
Janie Finlay was unable to say whether an agreement between Labor and the Tasmanian Hospitality Association on pokies remained in place.(Supplied: City of Launceston)

Ms Webb urged Labor to back the scheme.

“We’ve got a real opportunity here to take positive steps forward, that haven’t been dictated by the industry, and that will bravely set us on a course towards much less harm when it comes to pokies,” she said.

Labor took a policy to the 2018 state election to remove poker machines from pubs and clubs.

It prompted an advertising blitz from opponents who claimed thousands of jobs would be lost in pubs and clubs around the state if Labor’s policy was enacted.

Almost a year after the election — which was won by the incumbent Liberals — the policy was dropped.

In the lead-up to the 2021 election, Labor signed a deal with the THA, which stated the party “supports the rights” of pubs and clubs to operate poker machines, and that the two entities would collaborate on “potential, viable harm minimization measures for gaming products while also agreeing that any measures need to be workable for industry”.

A blond woman sits with a drink at a pokie.
Under the scheme, players will need to set daily loss limits of up to $100, monthly limits of up to $500, and annual limits of up to $5,000.(ABC News)

On Friday, the government announced it would introduce Australia’s first pre-commitment scheme for all players by the end of 2024.

Under the scheme, players will need to set daily loss limits of up to $100, monthly limits of up to $500, and annual limits of up to $5,000, which can only be set higher should the person have a proven capacity to afford it.

The cards that players will have to use will have pre-set default limits that can be lowered by players at any time.

The THA angrily responded to the government’s announcement, describing it as “lies, lies and more lies” and a “slap in the face to hotel and pub customers and hardworking small and family businesses in Tasmania”.

The Treasurer has the power to introduce the scheme, meaning it will not need to go before parliament.

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