Potential TAB Sale Raises Electronic Gaming Concerns in WA

The potential sale of Western Australia TAB has experts worried about a possible influx of electronic gaming machines into the state.

The potential sale of WA TAB is raising concerns about electronic gaming heading to TABs across the state. WA law banned pokies when Crown Perth opened in 1985. Only Crown Perth offers electronic gaming machines, including simulated racing games. However, the McGowan government agreed to the successful WA TAB bidder to offer electronic gaming products.

Financial counsellor Alan Gray frequents the Kimberley where he helps Aboriginal people in financial crisis. Gray has seen bank statements of people with gambling addictions, and they make miserable reading. He is opposed to introducing simulated racing games into the Kimberley TAB outlets. Gray sees such machines as vessels to further entrench poverty through gambling.

Gray voiced his concerns about electronic gaming making its way to Western Australia. There are many ways for people of the Kimberley to gamble, but the nearest casino is almost 2,000 kilometres away. This long distance helps keep a lid on problem gamblers.

Electronic Gaming Machines Cause Increased Harm

Gray is not the only expert opposed to WA allowing electronic gaming machines. Matthew Rockloff, the lead researcher at CQUniversity, labelled the machines “the most dangerous form of gambling that we know of.” Rockloff is concerned simulated racing games make it possible to gamble non-stop.

“It turns what’s a non-continuous form of gambling in a continuous form of gambling. There’s no doubt it will be associated with some increase in harm. Let’s not kid ourselves, that’s what it’s all about: making the sale come off with a better payoff. But the downside to that, of course, is expanding gambling opportunities right at a time when we’ve just shown that gambling problems are a lot lower in Western Australia. They’re a lot lower because Western Australia has restricted gambling opportunities.”

Tabcorp is the most likely outfit to purchase WA TAB. A successful bid vastly increases Tabcorp’s reach throughout the country. It already offers betting agencies in every other state, and operates the Trackside simulated racing game.

There are several questions about the sale that Racing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby refused to answer. First, he did not respond, when asked, how many electronic gaming machines the state would see in TAB agencies. In addition, he did not respond when asked if Crown Perth would receive $1.2 million from the successful bidder.

Introducing Pokies By Stealth

It is not only the installation of electronic gaming machines that has WA officials hot under the collar. The WA government removed the requirement for the new operator to fund the racing industry. Sale documents highlighted a growth opportunity for the new operator, stating there is “significant scope for product innovation via new products and bet types.”

Chief executive of the WA Council of Social Services (WACOSS), Louise Giolitto, questioned why a new operator needs revenue from electronic gaming if it is no longer funding racing. Furthermore, these machines morphing into pokies worried Giolotto.

“We understand the desire for the WA government to achieve the best price possible for the asset, but at what cost? Our concern is that over time, these products will morph into full-blown pokie machines and they will be spread all over WA.”

The ongoing royal commission into Crown Perth raised a few questions about electronic gaming machines. It revealed modern EGM games are strikingly similar to what constitutes a poker machine. Indeed, some experts state modern EGMs at Crown Perth are pokies in all but name.

WA TAB Sale Expected During 2022

The WA government first touted a potential WA TAB sale in late 2018. It talked about figures from $200 million to $1 billion, although $500 million is most likely. The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on any potential deal, but it is thought talks are happening again.