Australian Poker Machines No More Harmful Than Going to the Movies, Hospitality Group Argues

Posted on: February 9, 2017, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: February 9, 2017, 06:28h.

Australian poker machines have been cited as fueling gambling addiction Down Under, but a hospitality group told a Tasmanian government committee this week that the gambling mechanisms are as innocent as going to the movies.

Australian poker machines Tasmania
Those who take on the risk of Australian poker machines know the odds are stacked against them, at least that’s according to one hospitality group. (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

Tasmania, the isolated island state off Australia’s southern coast, is considering terminating its pokies contract with the Federal Group after it expires in 2023. The company has held a monopoly on gaming in the state for some 40 years.

During a special hearing on the matter this week, the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH Group) came to the defense of the Federal Group. The hotel and restaurant developer explained to a select joint committee in the Hobart capital that patrons who play the pokies don’t actually expect to win.

“They are enjoying that form of entertainment. It’s no different to me than going to the movies, whether it’s a good movie or a bad movie, and buying ice cream,” ALH Group Corporate Affairs executive David Curry opined.

Not-So-Great Expectations

Curry believes those sitting down at the Australian poker machines know they’re going to eventually lose. Pokies are similar to slots in the US, but unlike in America, in Tasmania they are scattered throughout hotels, bars, and clubs.

As of last count, there were 2,375 pokies in non-casino facilities, and another 1,185 in Tasmania’s two casinos. The state’s residents lost roughly $200 million playing the machines in 2014.

But for Curry, it’s all just represents the price of entertainment, not unlike a ticket to a sporting event. “I don’t think people generally expect to win,” Curry concluded.

Based in Melbourne, the ALH Group owns four hotels and a tavern in Tasmania. All five properties offer electronic gaming and wagering through machines leased from the Federal Group.

The legislative proposal presented to the Tasmanian government would end Federal Group’s pokies monopoly, but also lower the number of machines an establishment could house.

While some pub and tavern owners would welcome an open market in favor of the possibility of no longer directing 40 percent of their pokies revenue back to the Federal Group, reducing machine allotment could have grave consequences.

“The vast majority of our places would be broke without the pokies,” Dixon Hotel Group Director Peter Dixon told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The committee will continue reviewing the pros and cons of severing ties with the Federal Group, as well as considering if a reduction in the total amount of pokie machines in Tasmania is in the state’s best interests.

Big Screen vs. Big Problem

According to the Tasmanian Gaming Commission, an estimated 25,000 citizens are being negatively affected by regularly playing the pokies. The most critical addicts are at risk of losing their homes, spouse, and job.

The Gaming Commission believes there’s 2,500 residents at any given moment who are experiencing great harm stemming from pub and casino gambling.

A polling company in 2015 said 84 percent of respondents disagreed that poker machines provide benefits Tasmania. And even more surprising, is that one in two respondents said pokies should be completely removed from hotels, bars, and clubs.

Though research isn’t available, it’s relatively safe to say the rate of becoming addicted to the movies is much lower than developing an uncontrollable urge to play the pokies.