In a bet there is a fool and a thief. – anon

Tasmania is something of a gambling epicentre. Tattersalls, the lottery firm, had a base in Tasmania long ago. More recently, Tasmania was the first state to legislate to allow casinos, the licence going to Federal Hotels. Not long later the Deputy Premier of the day resigned his position, precipitating a change in government, but he was OK, picking up employment with the casino. Touch of luck that.

Casinos were initially limited to table games such as roulette and blackjack. And they tried to be classy – spacious, dress code, restrained noise levels. but then they got the go ahead to install ‘Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs), otherwise known as pokies. Some pubs and clubs gained a similar opportunity, although somehow Federal hotels have control of all EGMs in the state through a subsidiary.

Tasmania has a cap of 3676 EGMs, of which 1280 are found in the two Federal Hotel casinos. The balance are found in clubs and pubs, no more than 40 at any. Federal own 9 hotels with gaming sections. Thus, federal directly own nearly half the EGMs, and run the others through Network Gaming. A monopoly no less.

Recently the Tasmanian government commissioned a study  -  The Social and Economic Impact Study 

into Gambling in Tasmania, supposed to be a warts and all examination of the extent, effect, harms, and so. The study was completed by The South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, and involved both the University of Adelaide and Flinders University. 

And it was commissioned by Department of Treasury and Finance Tasmania.

Scara is prone to check who funds a research project, fearing, perhaps needlessly, that results of such studies tend to be good news for those who pay for them. There is also the advice of Sir Humphrey Appleby to consider – something about not holding an enquiry unless you know the result.

What the Treasurer, Federal Hotels and the Australian Hotels Association wanted was a low rate of problem gambling. And this they got – 0.54% of the adult population, which is even lower than the last survey estimated.

Federal Hotels is a subsidiary of a private company belonging to the Farrell family. Greg Farrell, the current head of the clan, had already denied that problem gambling was a significant social problem in Tasmania. Not sure how he would have known that. Just lucky perhaps. Farrell doesn’t live in Tasmania (The Farrells live on a  horse stud not far out of Sydney. They have a local estate – the Belle Vue property in the northern midlands, right in the heart of the squattocracy).

Back to the 0.54% – approximately 1500 people. that estimate was reached by a telephone survey, numbers taken at random from the white pages. Now readers will see some problems there - 

  • - who is listed?
  • - who has a phone?
  • - who is at work?
  • - who is not at work?
  • all sorts of potential problems – which the researchers attempted to address by quotas, weighting, etc – presumably they got it right. 

 

But then only 40% completed the survey. So, is this representative of the Tas population? Who knows.

    Then there is the issue of ‘response set’, i.e. the reliability of the people they spoke to – how likely is that people are painfully candid about bad habits?  Almost everyone understates their consumption  of alcohol for example.

    And finally there is the measure they used, the Canadian Problem Gambling Index, which they conceded tended to give a conservative estimate. Certainly conservative when compared with a Canadian review (Canadian Family Physician•VOL 46: JUNE 2000) which concluded :

     

    Key points 

    • Canadian studies indicate that about 5% of those who gamble are “problem gamblers” and about 1% are “compulsive gamblers.” 

    • While most people gamble for fun, excitement, and sociability, problem and compulsive gamblers 

    focus on winning money and “chasing” (winning back) their losses. 

    • The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, classifies compulsive gambling as an impulse-control disorder. The condition has strong parallels with substance dependence. 

    • Treatment stategies have included cognitive and behavioural therapy, medication, group counseling, and self-change, but currently the model of Prochaska and DiClemente is seen as most appropriate for changing complex addictive behaviour.

    Perhaps a more telling finding from the Tasmanian study is that 1 in 8 respondents knew of a close family member with a gambling problem.

    Tasmania derives 11.5% of its tax receipts from gambling revenue – and the bulk of this (68%) comes from EGMs. That amounts to $195 million – around 25% of gross profits. the Farrells do well too – now on the rich list of the BRW, and are believed to have doubled their wealth. Born lucky, I suppose.

    Each machine, on average, generates around $50,000 in revenue each year. And other than those at the casinos, these machines tend to be found in more socially disadvantaged locations.

    Federal Hotels seem to have a streak of luck that never ends. They have a monopoly, and curiously the last and unlamented premier extended that out to 2013. further the casinos play a lower rate of gambling tax than pubs, and they are exempt from the community service levy. 

    ‘Casinos and prostitutes have the same thing in common; they are both trying to screw you out of your money and send you home with a smile on you face.’  ~VP Pappy

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