Monday, May 18, 2009

Casino tax boost 'vital for hospitals', by Michelle Draper - Fairfax - 18th May 2009

Victoria's public hospitals will suffer if the opposition blocks a deal to raise taxes on gaming machines at Crown Casino, Victorian premier John Brumby says.

The deal between Crown and the state government, announced on the day of the federal budget last week, allows the casino to expand its gaming floor and introduce 150 more games tables in return for increased taxes on its poker machines.

But opposition gaming spokesman Michael O'Brien said it was wrong to link health funding and gambling revenue.

"If John Brumby doesn't think he's capable of running our hospitals without expanding the casino he should get out of the job," Mr O'Brien told AAP.

"If John Brumby wants to link the number of hospital beds to the number of gaming tables it shows you he's got his priorities wrong."

Mr Brumby said that if the Liberals voted against the deal they would be helping the casino.

"If the Liberal Party votes against it they'll be doing Crown Casino a favour by giving them ... a level of tax on gaming machines which is much more favourable than that paid by other gaming operators," he told reporters on Monday.

Mr Brumby said raising the tax on gaming machines at Crown to bring the casino into line with other operators was "the right thing to do, it's the right social policy".

"If the Liberal Party votes against it that'll be a matter for them but they will be denying the state much-needed revenue to run our public hospital system," he said.

Mr O'Brien said that if the government wanted to secure parliamentary support for the proposal, Mr Brumby would have to come clean on how the deal was struck with Crown by releasing all related correspondence and documents.

"We're not going to be bullied into rubber-stamping a deal to massively expand gambling by John Brumby," Mr O'Brien said.

The deal must go through parliament because the tax rates the casino pays and its site come under a legislative agreement between Crown and the state government.

Legislation is expected to go before the lower house in June.

Under the proposal, while Crown has agreed to a phased hike of 10 per cent in the taxes it pays on poker machines, which will reach 32.5 per cent by 2014/15, it will no longer have to pay a $4,333 health levy per pokie machine, worth $10.8 million a year, from 2012.

The added taxes on Crown's poker machines would provide another $60 million over a four-year period.

This financial year, Victoria is expected to rake in about $1.6 billion in gaming revenue. (Credit: Fairfax)

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