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Alcohol reforms: Confusion still over which city venues forced to close earlier

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Nicole Hasham, Rachel Olding

Liquor authorities have refused to reveal how many licensed venues will be affected by the government's new alcohol reforms three days after they were announced, triggering criticism the laws are "ill-conceived" and "knee jerk".

The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing failed to respond to questions over which of the 1430 venues in the so-called "Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct" would be forced to implement lockouts and 3am last drinks - measures which operators warn will cost jobs and strip millions of dollars from venue turnover.

It follows the release of a map on Tuesday purportedly showing the boundaries of the new precinct. However the map failed to identify the names of streets that form the precinct's boundaries, or whether venues on both sides of the street are included.

It is understood the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing was awaiting confirmation from the Premier's office on Thursday about the map's final boundaries.

Sylvester & Browne principal David Sylvester, whose law firm represents about 25 venues, said the "ill-conceived" plan has left publicans in limbo.

"Some of our clients sit on those edges and they are worried about whether or not the new scheme is going to affect them," he said.

"If they have to abide by the new scheme some of them, even the smaller pubs, would lose close to a million dollars a year."

An independent review of the Liquor Act last month rejected the concept of ''one size fits all'' trading hours, saying it would unfairly penalise compliant venues and affect employment and the economy.

The changes apply to a new precinct spanning Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Cockle Bay, The Rocks and Haymarket.

About 290 licensed venues inside the precinct boundaries are presently allowed to trade after 3am, but the licensing restrictions do not apply to small bars holding less than 60 people, restaurants or tourist accommodation venues. The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing refused to clarify how many venues would be excluded.

A spokesman said the final boundary "will be included in the legislative package to be introduced to Parliament next week", after which all affected venues would be contacted. He would not say how many inquiries or complaints had been received. A spokesman for Premier Barry O'Farrell declined to comment on criticism of the map's boundaries.

The new laws also raise the possibility that bars that serve food will apply for restaurant licences.

In a submission to the Liquor Act review last year, the City of Sydney said the majority of small bars were already using restaurant licenses, adding ''it is easy for what appears to be a restaurant or cafe to become a small bar''.

The ambiguity confused the community and made the development application process unclear, the council said.

Small Bars Association president Martin O'Sullivan said smaller venues that are not propped up by poker machine revenue would be hardest hit by the reforms.

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