Community leaders have urged the Premier not to lock local neighbourhoods into decades of future harm by poker machines.
An open letter calling for the removal of poker machines from hotels and clubs –signed by thousands of Tasmanians – was provided to the Premier Will Hodgman ahead of the state election.
Community organisations, including Anglicare, said poker machines had already cost too many Tasmanians their health, relationships, jobs and homes.
“The 35 Houses in our network are primarily located in areas where poker machines proliferate – low socio-economic and regional communities,” said John Hooper, executive officer of Neighbourhood Houses Tasmania. “Grassroots Tasmanians are saying they don’t want pokies doing this level of damage to the communities they live, work, parent and play in”.
“We are begging the government to change its policy,” he said. “Don’t throw our communities under the bus”.
Deputy Chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Dr Jennie Robinson said poker machine addiction was not a choice. “It’s a medical issue and I’ve seen firsthand the toll it can take on families,” Dr Robinson said. “GPs are on the frontline of Tasmania’s health system. We are the ones who see the families forced into poverty, and the families unable to afford medication for their children because they are suffering from a poker machine addiction.
Claire Milligan from the Women’s Legal Service Tasmania said they had seen countless cases of people harmed by poker machine gambling. “The effect is just phenomenal,” she said. “Some have lost the family home, others have committed crimes to try to hide the fact that they’ve lost so much money,” said. “We have also assisted many women whose partners had gambled away the family income”.
“We’ve seen families torn apart and financially ruined by poker machines,” she said. “These are stories of stigma, shame and desperation. Pokies destroy lives and destroy families”.
Ms Milligan said freeing local communities of poker machines would reduce preventable harm to traumatised Tasmanians. “Taking poker machines out of hotels and clubs would have a clear, positive effect in our state, particularly for women and families,” she said.
Education and training consultant and former Assistant Principal Rosny College, Mike Frost said he’d seen the harm caused by poker machines. “I’ve spoken with teenagers forced to develop strategies to access money for groceries before the rest of their parents’ pay disappeared into the pokies,” he said. “That level of stress has an impact on young people in the education system”.
Anglicare said the harm caused by poker machines cost the State millions of dollars each year.
“Removing poker machines from hotels and clubs would support a range of important policy initiatives,” said Meg Webb, Manager of Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre. “This one decision would make a significant, measurable difference in key areas such as health and wellbeing, reducing family violence, and suicide prevention”.