Tasmania pokies tax plan in spotlight

Landmark plans to alter the tax rates on poker machines in Tasmania have been lashed by anti-gambling campaigners as not going far enough and pandering to industry.

The Liberal state government has released long-awaited draft legislation slated to come into effect on July 1, 2023. 

The laws will also end Federal Group’s monopoly on poker machine ownership in Tasmania, something the company has held for almost 50 years. 

Federal Group runs both of Tasmania’s casinos – Wrest Point in Hobart and the Country Club in Launceston. 

The proposed taxation arrangements will leave the company about $25 million worse off per year, the state government says. 

“The state does better, pubs and clubs do better and Federal Group, unfortunately for them, do much worse,” Premier Peter Gutwein said.

The state government will rake in an extra $8.5 million each year under the plan, which includes a greater community support levy paid by gambling operators and invested in gambling support services and community projects. 

The proposed law gives control of poker machines to pubs and clubs, reduces the statewide cap on the number of machines by 150 and introduces a separate licence for Keno.

The laws would also provide two licences to establish new high-roller casinos in Hobart and Launceston.

Among a raft of changes, the tax rate on casino poker machines will fall from 25.88 per cent to 13.91 per cent. 

The government stands to increase takings from Keno and has increased taxes on hotel and club poker machines.

Mr Gutwein said the proposed arrangement was modelled on licence fees and tax rates in far north Queensland, a gaming region comparable to Tasmania. 

Anti-gambling campaigner and federal Independent MP Andrew Wilkie claims pubs and clubs will be better off overall. 

“For a start, Federal Group will enjoy a thumping big tax cut on their casino poker machines,” he said. 

“While the government will try to make a virtue of the fact that Federal is worse off in gross terms, the reality is they had no inherent right to the old tax rate.

“Moreover they own some of the state’s most lucrative hotels which will all steeply increase in value with the issue of their individual licences, that previously they have not held but which are contained in the state government’s poker machine package.

“Pubs … might appear to be worse off with their higher tax rate, when the reality is that every pub is increasing in value on account of the individual licences they will shortly be issued. 

“This will more than offset the trickle effect of a tax increase.” 

State independent upper house member Meg Webb told the ABC it appeared the industry is getting everything they asked for.

She says harm minimisation measures, such as bet limits, should have been included in the legislation. 

Federal Group Executive General Manager Daniel Hanna said the company will comprehensively review the legislation. 

It is open for public consultation for five weeks and is expected to come before parliament this year.

The Tasmanian Hospitality Association has welcomed the model and says it will help support the sustainability of hospitality businesses that facilitate gaming. 

The Liberals took the monopoly-ending policy to the state election in 2018 when Labor campaigned on banning poker machines outright, a position the party has since dropped.

Hospitality groups and the gambling industry donated heavily to the Liberal campaign, prompting criticism from opposition parties.

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