A new government report found that Tasmanian citizens are gambling less than they used to, and that they are slowly moving away from pokies and towards online betting.

Tasmania gambling report SEIS

Both sides of the Tasmanian pokies debate have pointed to data from Treasurer Peter Gutwein’s report to support their stances. (Image: ABC News/David Hudspeth)

The release of the Social and Economic Impact Study (SEIS) prompted immediate reactions from both sides of the debate over a proposal to remove pokies (or slot machines) from clubs and pubs in the Australian state by 2023.

The SEIS is released every three years, and is designed to measure the impact of the gaming industry in Tasmania. The most recent survey took place from June to August of 2017, with 5,000 adults in the state taking 15-minute phone surveys about their gambling activities.

Overall Gaming Down, But Online Play Increasing

The main findings of the study were that play on electronic gaming machines (EGMs) has steadily fallen over the past decade. While 18.6 percent of adults surveyed had played EGMs within the past year, that was down from 28.5 percent a decade earlier.

Overall spend on the machines had steadily fallen as well, down from A$262 million ($210 million) in 2008-09 to A$191 million ($153 million) in 2015-16.

But while overall gaming spend may be falling, Tasmanians have been spending more time and money on online gambling. Nearly 11 percent of Tasmanian adults participated in some form of internet betting in the year before the survey was taken, with most of them doing so through a mobile device. That’s up from seven percent in the 2013 version of the survey.

While the results of the study are always of interest to those who want an inside view of the local gaming industry, the release of the latest data has both sides of the intense debate over the future of pokies in the state looking for information they can use to their advantage.

Both Sides See Useful Data in Report

The Labor Party, which proposed the removal of pokies, questioned the timing of the release of the report. The release of the SEIS data came on the same day as a visit to Tasmania by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“It’s clear now why [Tasmanian Treasurer] Peter Gutwein buried this report and then lied about it, and then put it out at 3:30 on a very busy news day,” said Scott Bacon, Labor’s Shadow Treasurer. “This report shows that there’s only 317 jobs in the hospitality industry that are dependent on gaming in pubs and clubs.”

Bacon pointed out this number in relation to claims by the current government that removing pokies could cost the state about 5,000 hospitality-related jobs.

But Gutwein said that the report instead showed that the policies of the Liberal Party, which currently has control in the state government, are working, and that a ban on pokies was entirely unnecessary.

“The fact is the report confirms not only is EGM gambling declining, problem gamblers continue to comprise a tiny proportion of the Tasmanian population,” Gutwein said.

Labor has promised to enact their proposal to remove pokies from the state’s clubs and pubs should they win a majority in elections later this year. The plan provides give years for venues to adjust their business models to deal with the removal of the machines, and would provide support funds to help in that transition.