Poker machines will remain in Tasmanian pubs and clubs if the Liberal party is returned to power, in what opponents have branded a government sell-out.
Premier Will Hodgman made the commitment ahead of an expected March election, differentiating himself from a Labor vow to get rid of pokies from the venues by 2023.
“We respect the fact that gaming and gambling is a lawful activity,” he told reporters in Hobart on Tuesday.
‘We fundamentally believe that Tasmanians should be able to exercise choice and to participate in gambling activities in its various forms.
“We are not a government or political party that believes in dictating to people.”
The government reiterated its vow to break a monopoly held on electronic gaming machines by Federal Group, which also runs the state’s two casinos.
Under the Liberal proposal, the right to operate poker machines would be licensed to individual venues for up to 20 years from 2023, when Federal Group’s deal expires.
It plans to cap the number of pokies in pubs and clubs across the state at 2,350.
The party has pledged to give venues a larger share of poker machine returns and take more money in tax.
Currently, revenue is split three ways between venues, the government and Federal Group.
Under the Liberals’ plan, venues would receive at least half, with the government taking 48 per cent and a monitoring network taking two per cent.
The amount of funding for harm minimisation and community projects would double from $4.4 million in 2016-17 to around $9 million.
Labor leader Rebecca White accused Mr Hodgman of “selling out” to the gaming lobby.
Federal Group, which opened Australia’s first casino in Hobart in 1973, has long held exclusive rights to operate casinos, pokies and Keno throughout Tasmania.
“Will Hodgman has put vested interests ahead of families and communities,” Ms White said in a statement.
Her thoughts were echoed by independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie, a long-time anti-pokie campaigner.
“It’s a fact that poker machines increase crime, domestic violence, suicide and childhood poverty,” he said.
Tasmania would join Western Australia to become the second state in Australia without machines at pubs and clubs under Labor’s plan.
Hospitality groups, Federal Group and the Liberal Party have previously hit out at the policy, saying it would cost jobs and hurt the state’s economy.