Pok­ies would be phased out in Vic­to­ria un­der pro­posed Greens pol­icy

The Guardian Australia - - News - Luke Hen­riques-Gomes

Poker ma­chines would be phased out of pubs and clubs in Vic­to­ria within a decade un­der a Greens pol­icy that would tear up a new 20-year li­cens­ing deal leg­is­lated by the state La­bor govern­ment last year.

The Greens, who are hop­ing to hold the bal­ance of power in par­lia­ment after the elec­tion on Novem­ber 24, said they would scrap the govern­ment’s 20year li­cence ex­ten­sion, slated to come into ef­fect in 2022, and re­place it with a fi­nal six-year li­cence.

“The pok­ies for too long have wreaked havoc across our com­mu­ni­ties,” the Greens leader, Saman­tha Rat­nam, said out­side a gam­ing venue in Mel­bourne’s south-east on Wed­nes­day.

Lo­cal coun­cils would be given the power to de­cide whether to grant new li­cences to pok­ies op­er­a­tors in 2022, be­fore all li­cences are phased out from 2028. Poker ma­chines would re­main in Crown Casino.

The pol­icy – which would also see the im­me­di­ate in­tro­duc­tion of max­i­mum $1 bets and other harm min­imi­sa­tion mea­sures – would starve the govern­ment of a ma­jor rev­enue source, with pok­ies losses adding $1.1bn to state cof­fers last fi­nan­cial year.

The Greens’ plan would cost $1.8bn over four years and about $6bn over a decade, ac­cord­ing to a par­lia­men­tary bud­get of­fice (PBO) cost­ing. By 2028-29, when the ma­chines were phased out, the an­nual loss of rev­enue to Vic­to­ria would in­crease to $1.1bn, up from $490m the pre­vi­ous year.

The plan sets aside a $200m com­pen­sa­tion fund for pubs and clubs, but ex­perts said re­peal­ing the li­cences would likely trig­ger le­gal ac­tion from the in­dus­try. The Greens’ pol­icy is com­pli­cated by the fact that the state govern­ment leg­is­lated to ex­tend poker ma­chines li­cences last year.

Tas­ma­nian La­bor vowed to re­move pok­ies from pubs and clubs if elected ear­lier in the year, but the li­cences there were set to ex­pire.

Leon Wie­gard, the pres­i­dent of

Com­mu­nity Clubs Vic­to­ria (CCV), said the $200m fig­ure in com­pen­sa­tion ap­peared “plucked out of the air”. He la­belled the pol­icy an “over­re­ac­tion”.

“Gam­bling is some­thing that the Greens don’t like,” he told Guardian Aus­tralia. “If we didn’t have or­gan­ised, prop­erly reg­u­lated … gam­bling, (it) will go un­der­ground again,” he added. CCV has an­nounced plans to cam­paign against the Greens over its pok­ies pol­icy.

Charles Liv­ing­stone, a pok­ies gam­bling ex­pert at Monash Uni­ver­sity, wel­comed the pol­icy, though he said over­turn­ing the ex­ist­ing li­cences would likely see op­er­a­tors take le­gal ac­tion.

“My sense is there will cer­tainly be com­pen­sa­tion claims and they will be very sig­nif­i­cant,” he told Guardian Aus­tralia. “In or­der to short cir­cuit that, you would need a com­pen­sa­tion fund that is prob­a­bly go­ing to be more than $200m.”

Al­liance for Gam­bling Re­form spokesman Stephen Mayne praised the plan as a “very strong pol­icy”. He dis­puted the sug­ges­tion the Greens would be tear­ing up the 20-year li­cences, say­ing they didn’t come into ef­fect un­til 2022. “The par­lia­ment gave them these li­cences, the par­lia­ment can take them away,” he said.

Trea­sury doc­u­ments show the govern­ment has al­ready re­ceived $56m in de­posits from op­er­a­tors ap­ply­ing for li­cences un­der the post-2022 ar­range­ments.

Vic­to­ria is on track for record pok­ies losses in the 2018 cal­en­dar year. The ma­chines were in­tro­duced into pubs and clubs in 1991 by Joan Kirner’s La­bor govern­ment. Last year, the state govern­ment capped the num­ber of ma­chines at 27,372 as it cre­ated the op­tion of new 20-year li­cences with the sup­port of the op­po­si­tion. Li­cences were pre­vi­ously 10 years in length.

The gam­ing min­is­ter, Mar­lene Kairouz, de­fended the govern­ment’s record. “We are freez­ing pok­ies num­bers across the state, lim­it­ing daily cash with­drawals in venues and cap­ping the num­ber of pok­ies in ar­eas most vul­ner­a­ble to gam­bling harm,” she said.

Pho­to­graph: Dan Peled/AAP

The Greens have an­nounced plans to phaseout poker ma­chines in Vic­to­ria’s pubs andclubs within a decade.

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