ACT News

Canberra's clubs sector steps up campaign to block pokies in the casino

An artist's impression of a gaming area in the redeveloped Canberra casino.
An artist's impression of a gaming area in the redeveloped Canberra casino. 

The ACT government has not finalised its position on poker machines in the Canberra casino, as ClubsACT launches a new campaign to stoke community opposition before the ACT election.

The association has begun an online petition to preserve the current community club model, which it claims would be destroyed if a revamped Casino Canberra is given poker machines.

Casino Canberra's new owners Aquis are proposing a $330 million redevelopment.
Casino Canberra's new owners Aquis are proposing a $330 million redevelopment. Photo: Melissa Adams

The casino wants to buy about 670 poker machines from the city's clubs, but would only operate 500 as 170 would be forfeited under the trading scheme rules.

Poker machines are a key demand for the casino's new owners, Hong Kong-based Aquis Entertainment, and their proposed $330 million redevelopment.

An artist's impression of the rebuilt Casino Canberra.
An artist's impression of the rebuilt Casino Canberra. Photo: Supplied

The project would include new gaming areas and resort-style entertainment, dining and retail precincts. The move would make the casino the single largest operator of machines in one location in the ACT.

ACT's community clubs-based gaming model restricts pokies to not-for-profit use.

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The clubs received $95.8 million in net revenue from gaming machines last financial year, with $12.7 million donated to community programs and sport. ClubsACT maintains those millions would be under threat if poker machines were located at the casino.

In September, Chief Minister Andrew Barr indicated he could end the ban on poker machines at the Canberra casino by saying the prohibition was not "set in stone for the rest of eternity".

However, he said a powerful argument would be required to revoke the longstanding policy.

Aquis claimed the revamped venue could attract up to 750,000 extra visitors to Canberra a year, including high-end Chinese gamblers, create more than 400 jobs, and raise as much as $60 million a year in additional tax revenue. Tourism experts have questioned the projected boost in visitor numbers.

The project would require a two-year build time and could open by 2018.

Aquis has previously declared an intention to join the poker machines trading scheme.

ClubsACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said poker machines at the casino would destroy the existing community model and kill off many of the capital's clubs.

The community model funded facilities such as golf courses, football fields, local sporting clubs, charities, lawn bowls greens, and other groups.

Mr Rees said casinos existed only to take a profit, but clubs existed to serve the community through a model which had been refined, tested, and proven constantly over the years.

"ACT community clubs are not-for-profit and they plough money back locally in the form of jobs, infrastructure and grants to community groups, sport clubs and charities," Mr Rees said.

"More than 1100 organisations have benefited from more than $125 million in donations in the last decade.

"Canberra's community club model plays a vital role in the economy and underpins our social fabric."

The casino operating 500 machines would cause an increase in annual pokies expenditure of about $18 million for the ACT, with the casino itself taking more than $55 million, according to national averages from Productivity Commission research.

Mr Rees argued pokies in the casino would increase problem gambling in the Canberra region, and cited research by Southern Cross University that showed gamblers played casino-based pokies twice as long as club patrons.

"It is true that the transfer of 500 gaming machines to the casino would reduce the number of machines by 167 across the ACT, but it is being naively argued that this might reduce problem gambling," Mr Rees said.

"Any notion that decreasing the number of machines would decrease problem gambling is utter nonsense, as the venue type is critical."

A spokesman for the Chief Minister said: "Andrew Barr has previously said that the government continues to examine the unsolicited proposal that has been put forward by the casino and no position has been formed at this stage."