MONA's David Walsh set to be offered a high roller casino licence

Thursday 5th March 2020

Related Story: MONA's Walsh warns of 'Russian roulette' on pokies future

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) founder and professional gambler David Walsh would be offered a high-roller casino licence under a new Tasmanian Government policy that would prevent the state's residents from gambling at the proposed luxury venue.

The state's future gaming policy consultation paper, released late on Tuesday, also shows the state's north could become home to another non-resident high-roller casino if the Government believes the business case stacks up.

Neither casino would be allowed to operate poker machines.

"In the first instance, the licence for the south will be offered to MONA in line with its 2015 proposal and subject to meeting all necessary probity and financial licence requirements," the paper states.

Mr Walsh announced plans in 2015 for a 160-room hotel-casino development, which would also include a function centre, restaurant, bar, theatre, some retail outlets, a spa and a bigger library.

Mr Walsh, who has made a fortune out of large-scale horse racing betting, has long opposed poker machines in pubs and clubs, describing them as devices that "use noise to disguise the fact that they are financial Russian roulette".

"Every outcome feels like a lottery win. But it's a bullet in disguise," he wrote ahead of the 2018 state election, adding the worst decision he ever made was to "give up" his studies and "start gambling".

Under the government's consultation policy, Mr Walsh will be offered the licence for an up-market venue he proposed for MONA, which will not admit Tasmanians.

In other measures, The Federal Group's poker machine monopoly would be broken up, to allow pubs and clubs to licence their own electronic gaming machines from 2023 directly, instead of from Federal.

A tender to monitor those venues' compliance with gaming legislation would be released, but Federal Group would retain the rights to watch and regulate its pokies network. It would also retain the rights as the state's keno operator.

The terms, tax rates and licence fees attached to its two casinos in Launceston and Hobart have not yet been determined.

For the first time, a 3 per cent community support levy (CSL) will be placed on the gross profit of poker machines in Federal Group casinos, with the Government expecting a boost to the fund aimed at tackling problem gambling.

"The use of the increased pool of CSL funding is subject to further consideration," a Treasury fact sheet said.

"This will include how it can be best targeted to achieve its objective, and whether the current funding allocation model is the most appropriate for the new gaming environment."

MONA has declined to comment, and the Federal Group is yet to respond.

Opponents of the Government's plans to individually licence poker machines believe doing so would allow competition between venues, meaning more Tasmanians could become addicted.

Anti-pokes advocates, including independent Nelson MP Meg Webb, have called for modelling of the projected impact of the new policy on the community.

The Government's consultation paper showed the Government would actually do fewer social impact surveys, monitoring the effect of gaming on Tasmanians every five years instead of every three years.

Tasmanian Finance Minister Michael Ferguson said there would not be a watering down of protections.

"Tasmania's harm-minimisation framework is already recognised nationally as best practice, and that will not change," he said.

"Our policy will maintain a strong harm minimisation framework in Tasmanian gaming venues."

The cap on the number of poker machines in the state will drop by 150.

The Tasmanian Hospitality Association was contacted for comment.

Gaming legislation dominated the 2018 state election after Labor announced it would get poker machines out of pubs and clubs and restrict them to the state's two casinos if elected.

The Liberals were heavily backed by the state's hospitality industry, and won majority government, with the Opposition later dropping its policy.

Labor has indicated only that it will focus on harm minimisation when debating the new legislation, which will not be released until the second half of the year, well behind the Liberals' original schedule.

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