Gambling giant Federal Group sets date to reopen casinos as coronavirus shutdown eases

Tasmania’s gambling monopoly holder Federal Hotels says it will reopen gaming rooms in less than two weeks.

The decision comes a day after Premier Peter Gutwein announced Tasmania was now free of active coronavirus cases, earning the state an early exit from stage two restrictions.

From next Wednesday, pubs and restaurants will be able to host 80 people.

Federal, which owns numerous Tasmanian hotels and hospitality businesses, closed its pub and casino operations in March as part of the coronavirus shutdown, with the loss of 1,500 jobs.

Company spokesman Daniel Hanna said “we’ve been waiting for this for some time and it’s good to get businesses open and good to get our people back and working again”.

Luxury boutique hotel Saffire Freycinet on Tasmania's east coast. Luxury boutique hotel Saffire Freycinet on Tasmania's east coast.
Federal’s Saffire Freycinet resort is set to reopen later in June.(Saffire Freycinet)

From June 26, the group will begin a staged return to business, including “practices around social distancing”, Mr Hanna said.

“There will be a very big investment in cleaning and hygiene with all of our surfaces and with staff.”

Meg Webb, Tasmanian Independent politician, August 2019.Meg Webb, Tasmanian Independent politician, August 2019.
Meg Webb says money that would have been gambled has instead been “available for Tassie families and households”.(ABC News)

“I think customers and locals moving forward are looking for that, they want to come out and enjoy hospitality environments again but they want to feel safe, they want to make sure that businesses have put some investment into thinking about those things.”

Federal, which operates the Wrest Point and the Country Club casinos, will delay opening their “tourism-focused businesses” until “the borders are open”, Mr Hanna said.

“I think it would be good to have a date, that’s certainly when a lot of our tourism businesses would be looking to reopen again is as soon as the borders are open and we’ve got flights coming in and out of Hobart and Launceston,” he said.

“At the moment we’re working towards that mid to late July timeframe and it will be really nice to have a confirmed date so that we can open up bookings and we can be there as an option when people from interstate who have been craving a Tasmanian holiday are able to book one.”

Clean Team member wiping surfaces at Country Club casino, Launceston.Clean Team member wiping surfaces at Country Club casino, Launceston.
A staff member wipes surfaces at Federal’s Country Club casino in Launceston.(Supplied: Federal Group)

Anti-pokies campaigners worried

Glenorchy Mayor Kristie Johnston — whose municipality includes an area known as “the golden mile”, for its proliferation of gaming venues — said her constituents had saved millions of dollars during the three-month closure of gaming in the state.

“For the last three months we have seen $5 million in the Glenorchy community saved from going down the throats of pokie machines,” she said.

“Instead, that $5 million has been spent putting food on the tables of Glenorchy families, it’s been spent on rent, it’s been spent on local businesses supporting local families.”

It is not just Glenorchy where the savings have added up, anti-gambling advocates argue.

Close-up of electronic gaming machine screen.Close-up of electronic gaming machine screen.
Close-up of electronic gaming machine screen, pokies, good generic.(ABC News)

Independent MLC Meg Webb said $500,000 had been saved every day since the restrictions came into effect.

Ms Webb said she was concerned that Tasmania could follow what’s happened in other states after machines are turned back on.

“We can look at NSW, they’ve had one week of pokie machines being switched back on and losses have skyrocketed well above pre-COVID-19 levels,” she said.

“That’s a devastating outcome for people who are being harmed, but it’s also devastating for every other small business in that community, especially hospitality businesses.”

She said the community should “absolutely reconsider when we turn these machines back on”.

“The longer we can leave that the more relief we will see in the community and the bonus we will see going to other hospitality businesses trying to re-establish themselves.”

Cr Johnston said the lack of gambling opportunities during the last three months had “helped some people give up”.

“One of the difficulties is that the temptation is there,” she said.

“We have a unique opportunity now, people have gone three months without pokie machines.

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