The Tasmanian government says it can handle opening two more casinos, potentially bringing the number of casinos in the island state off Australia’s south coast to four.

The deal would be a blow to the Federal Group, which opened Australia‘s first legal casino, Wrest Point Hotel Casino, in Hobart in 1973, and has held exclusive rights to operate casinos, Keno, and pokies throughout Tasmania for 30 years. However, the current deal is set to expire in 2023. That has prompted the company that owns and operates tourism, entertainment and gaming businesses in Tasmania to seek and early extension, promising that it will invest $100 million in building upgrades.

On Wednesday, negotiations for a new state gaming license, which is due by 2019, got underway as plans were revealed by Treasurer Peter Gutwein in parliament for an “open and transparent process,” according to news.com.au. Gutwein said, “The government’s position is that limited new high roller, non-residential casino licenses should be available in Tasmania in addition to the Federal Group’s two casinos.” It is expected that one of the licenses will be given to David Walsh, operator of the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).

The news outlet quoted Gutwein as saying, “The opportunity to apply for such a licence should be afforded to Mr Walsh, given he initially came forward with a proposal in respect of financially supporting the Mona museum.” Up to 12 gambling tables were included in Walsh’s initial proposal, at his complex in Hobart’s northern suburbs, with super-wealthy art lovers being the target.

Poker machines will be one of the key elements of the gaming license negotiations. Currently, there are 3,530 pokies throughout Tasmania, and Gutwein said, “The rights to operate these machines post 2023 will be allocated and priced by a market-based mechanism, such as a tender.” A gambler himself, Walsh promised his casino, dubbed the Monaco, would not have any poker machines. In a blog post, Walsh wrote, “I want to build a casino with the following limitations: no Tasmanian gamblers; 12 tables and no poker machines; high minimums and maximums; and did I say no pokies? All revenue would go to Mona and related projects.”

Also proposed is that in addition to the industry determining the relocation of gaming machines, the opinion of the members of the local community should also be taken into consideration, said the treasurer. However, the government’s plans are already the subject of criticism, with Andrew Wilkie, federal Independent MP, commenting, “The (government) announcement also contained no assurance about the mandatory inclusion of effective harm minimisation measures in any future licenses to operate poker machines.”

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