A strategic response is required to protect Tasmanians from gambling harm

image of a balancing scale with a bag full of money on one side and a paper cutout of a family on the other.

Whatever your opinion of poker machines, Tasmanians agree it’s reasonable to help protect people from addiction and families and communities from gambling harm.

So you might be surprised to know how little funding is strategically allocated in our State for this purpose.

Poker machines are a product designed to make money. $192 million disappeared into poker machines in our State in 2020-21. It’s a business model with an ugly side: around 40% of the money taken by the machines in Australia is from people with a gambling addiction.

Government is responsible for setting limits on how quickly venues can profit from the machines. In doing so, it is expected to weigh up the easy money that poker machines bring in against the widespread community harms they cause.

These harms include financial losses, debt, relationship break-down, impacts on mental and physical health, suicide, crime, and increased costs to our health and justice systems.

One way that government acknowledges these harms is through the Community Support Levy (CSL). 4% of the gross profits made from poker machines in hotels and clubs is currently diverted into the CSL. From next July, casinos will also be required to contribute.

Poker machines are a cash cow for venues and government. However, in the 2020-21 financial year, only $1.55 million from the CSL went directly to preventing or responding to gambling harm. That much is regularly lost to poker machines in Glenorchy in a single month.

The good news is that the CSL funded the Gamblers Help counselling service. It also paid for the Gambling Exclusion Scheme to enable people to bar themselves from gambling venues.

More than half of the funding allocated to problem gambling initiatives was used for the Neighbourhood House program. CSL money is also used to fund the regular independent study into the social and economic impacts of gambling in our State.

Half of the total CSL was distributed to sporting clubs and charities. While these projects had value for local communities, they were not necessarily strategic spending to reduce gambling harm.

The proportion of the CSL ear-marked to address gambling harm represents crumbs thrown by industry and government to not-for-profit organisations working to support the many people and communities who have lost out to poker machines.

We’re grateful for those crumbs. They enable organisations like Anglicare to deliver much-needed support. But it does not go anywhere near matching the scale of the problem.

That’s particularly the case when you consider that community services like ours are not only responding to the harmful effects of poker machines, but all forms of gambling (including sports betting which is hooking a new generation of gamblers). We’re no match for the combined advertising budgets of the gambling industry, yet our mission and values compel us to respond when people and communities are being harmed. We take whatever funding is available and put it to use.

A study undertaken for the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission forecasts that gambling revenue is expected to keep growing in our State as structural changes to the industry are rolled out next year.  Alongside that growth, our State needs a robust public health approach to prevent and reduce the associated harms.

The levy for a Community Support Fund is one small element of this, and the entire allocation should be directed into services, research and services that prevent and reduce gambling harm. This needs to be clearly included in the regulations for administering this Fund.

Every initiative funded should be evidence-based and have its performance measured, with an annual review to ensure it is making a measurable difference.

We would like to see the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission given the task of recommending what is funded by the levy. At the moment, CSL allocations are determined by the Minister on advice from a government department. An independent body responsible for the regulation of gaming in Tasmania, the TLCG is well placed to see the effects of gambling in the State.

There is also a push to have a greater share of the Community Support Fund distributed to the areas being most hurt by gambling.

This is not currently factored into how the CSL allocations are made. Harms are greater in some communities than others, especially in lower socio-economic areas with a high density of poker machines. The Glenorchy City Council mayor Bec Thomas says municipalities experiencing high poker machines losses and gambling harm should be prioritised for funding from the Community Support Fund.

Gambling harm is a reality in our state. The last independent study of the impacts (which was funded from the CSL) contained a long list of harms. The true cost of these harms was unable to be fully measured.  But one thing is sure – the Community Support Fund is a drop in the bucket in comparison.


Chris Jones, CEO Anglicare Tasmania


This article appeared as a Talking Point opinion piece in The Mercury on 12 July 2022

Anglicare Tasmania runs the Gamblers Help service in Tasmania. There is a wide range of resources available on our website. You can also ring us on 1800 243 232 or email gamblershelp@staging-anglicare.kingsdigital.dev

Click here to read Anglicare Tasmania’s submission to the Draft Gaming Control (Community Service Fund) Regulations 2022

Anglicare Tasmania also made a submission to the review of the Responsible Gambling Mandatory Code of Practice for Tasmania.

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