ACT News

Small pubs want changes to new pokie laws

Gaming and Racing Minister Joy Burch won't reconsider proposed poker machine laws, unmoved by calls from Canberra's small hotels and taverns wanting to upgrade their ageing technology.

Smaller venues around Canberra currently operate 68 card-style machines, known as class B pokies.

Under proposed laws expected to approved by the ACT Legislative Assembly next year, new hotels and taverns will no longer be able to apply for required licenses and existing hotels and taverns will have the option to continue operating their machines or sell their entitlements to clubs in a trading scheme.

The first tranche of the reforms was introduced to the Assembly last month.

Ms Burch said abandoning an aspirational target of 4000 machines operating in the ACT for a ratio of 15 machines per 1000 adults would see the greatest decline in pokies since self-government.

Under the new rising cap, 4785 machines will be operation in 2018.  

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The owners of Curtin's Statesman Hotel and the Kambah Inn, the Arko Group, want the right to upgrade to the current class C technology. Joining calls from the Australian Hotels Association ACT branch, consultant Peter Conway said the older machines are passed their use-by date and can't be serviced by manufacturers. 

The AHA said last month the government's plan would give larger Canberra clubs an "absolute monopoly" on more popular poker machines which also generate greater revenue. 

Mr Conway said hotels and taverns were willing to increase their community contributions from poker machine profits and to comply with all new requirements, including a temporary one-in-four mandatory forfeiture plan for all machine sales in the ACT. 

"It will place hotels and taverns in a position where they can be part of any trading scheme on an equal footing with clubs, thus putting in place an enabling procedure for them to assist the ACT Government in reducing the total number of poker machines entitlements from its existing number of 4954," he said. 

"The Kambah Inn and the Statesman Hotel have been providing direct contributions to our local community groups since our ownerships of these venues in 1983 and 1985 respectively. At times these contributions have been far in excess of the minimum compulsory contributions required by clubs." 

Mr Conway has restated an invitation for Ms Burch to visit the venues to see how the older machines operate. 

 

Under the new plan the government will release additional gaming machine entitlements, by sale or tender, every two years, to maintain the 15:1,000 ratio.

"No pub or tavern will be worse off under these reforms and some may be better off," a spokeswoman for Ms Burch said.

"There is no requirement for pubs and taverns to divest their class B licences. If they wish to retain their class B machines, they can. If they want to sell their licences to a club, they will be able to sell them at the going rate for a class C machine, which is higher than for a class B."

The spokeswoman said allowing pubs and taverns to operate class C licences would mean a significant weakening of controls over gaming machines.

"To access class C machines, clubs must comply with strict controls that do not apply to pubs and taverns, including membership and sign-in requirements."

Anti-gambling advocates have criticised the government's plan to ditch efforts to reduce poker machines in the territory to a permanent cap of 4000. 

Prominent campaigner and Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce chair Tim Costello called the decision "a breach of faith".

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