ACT News

Pokies task force to help clubs develop income alternatives to gambling

Gaming and Racing Minister Joy Burch has welcomed the establishment of a task force to help Canberra's clubs to become less reliant on the profits from poker machines. 

Ms Burch chaired a roundtable table meeting of industry and experts at the ACT Legislative Assembly on Tuesday and defended the government's decision to abandon an aspiration target of 4000 poker machines in the territory in favour of a new population ratio. 

The task force, led by the government and Clubs ACT, will continue discussions on the issues facing clubs and their viability as well as plans for the construction of community facilities including child care centres, aged care and affordable housing to diversify their revenue base. 

Clubs ACT chief executive Jeff House welcomed the meeting and ongoing work as an opportunity to align the objectives of the clubs sector with the government.

He said land adjacent to as many as two-thirds of club sites could be developed and called for an expansion of lease variation schemes to promote activity. 

"Clubs are fairly significant landholders in the ACT and they are all looking to diversify their revenue streams and rely less on gaming, and land is the obvious choice for them to pursue.


"It is the start of a conversation, not the end. Nothing was ruled out today, so that was positive," Mr House said. 

Ms Burch is expected to introduce legislation into the Assembly early next year to establish a rising cap on the number of poker machines within three years, and a new open-market trading scheme for licenses.

Under the proposed ratio of 15 machines per 1000 adults in the ACT, the number of machines could surpass the current total of 4954 as soon as 2020. 

Clubs will be required to forfeit one machine for every four traded.

Australian Bureau of Statistics projections suggest the ACT's adult population could reach about 332,000 within six years, meaning on conservative estimates the new ratio would allow for 4982 machines in 2020. 

Currently the ACT has the highest number of machines per capita of any Australian jurisdiction, but retains the lowest average revenue per gaming machine. Anti-gambling advocates have slammed the moves in recent weeks.

The proposed changes would give clubs the ability to remove machines from operation and new machine licenses will be released by the government every two years in line with population growth.   

Ms Burch said she remained committed to a reduction in poker machine numbers. 

"What we are moving to is, as our population grows the club sector, which is a great and valuable industry here to the ACT, is also allowed to grow.

"All clubs in the ACT are community clubs. They are all governed by independent boards and all provide a benefit to the broader community, whether it is in sporting facilities or public amenity," Ms Burch said. 

The government won't reconsider calls from small hotels and taverns to be allowed to upgrade their outdated class B gaming machines to the current class C. 

"It has been a policy of the ACT since self-government that not-for-profit community clubs hold class C licenses and that position will be maintained," Ms Burch said. 

Opposition gaming spokesman Brendan Smyth said the golden age of poker machines was over and accused the Labor Party of funding campaigns "from the pockets of problem gamblers."

"I think we should be looking at all options that clubs may require to keep them viable in the long term because, let's face it, the club might be the only place where a lot of people would associate with other human beings," he said. 

Mr Smyth said a population-based ratio would take the politics out of poker machine numbers. The opposition will consider the legislation in 2015.