Canberra casino will be allowed 60 fully-automated games on top of 200 poker machines
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Canberra casino will be allowed 60 fully-automated games on top of 200 poker machines

The casino will be allowed 60 fully-automated table games as well as 200 poker machines, under legislation tabled by Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay on Thursday.

The decision to allow poker machines in the casino breaks the long-held monopoly of clubs on the lucrative form of gambling and is strongly opposed by both clubs and anti-gambling activists.

Aquis managing director, Justin Fung at the Canberra casino, which is allowed poker machines for the first time under a bill abled this week.

Aquis managing director, Justin Fung at the Canberra casino, which is allowed poker machines for the first time under a bill abled this week.Credit:Melissa Adams

Gamblers playing poker machines at the casino will have to nominate upfront how much they are prepared to lose over 24 hours, in what the government says is the first mandatory precommitment scheme in the country.

Clubs will not face the same restriction.

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An artist's impression of the proposed redevelopment of the Aquis Canberra casino, as proposed two years ago.

An artist's impression of the proposed redevelopment of the Aquis Canberra casino, as proposed two years ago.

Gamblers will be limited to $5 a spin on the poker machines, compared to the $10 spins allowed in clubs. The Greens have previously demanded $1 spins, in line with Productivity Commission recommendation. Greens gambling spokesman Shane Rattenbury said this week he would not accept $5 spins, but was open to a figure above $1 and below $5.

The casino will also be required to forfeit one in three poker machines that it buys from clubs, instead of the one in four that clubs must forfeit when they buy poker machines from other clubs.

Because each terminal of an automated table game is also included in the trading scheme, the casino will have to buy 390 machines from clubs in order to operate 200 poker machines and 60 terminals, which would cost the casino close to $6 million, based on prices in the trading scheme to date.

The casino will have to buy half the machines from small to medium clubs - defined as clubs or clubs groups which earn less than $4 million from poker machines - or from hotels.

The casino has promised a $307 million redevelopment of its site on Glebe Park, including swank hotels, upmarket retail, and restaurants.

Last year, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the casino would only be allowed to operate poker machines once its redevelopment was complete. But the goalposts have shifted. The bill tabled this week said the casino would have to have completed only "a prescribed stage" of a redevelopment before it can put poker machines on the floor. Details of the development and the "prescribed stage" are not set out, and the bill leaves that to be decided by the government in a regulation.

Asked how much development would be acceptable to the government before it gave the green light to pokies, Mr Barr said that was "subject to further negotiation".

The inclusion of fully automated table games will upset gambling opponents, with Monash University gambling expert Charles Livingstone describing them last year as "quite dangerous devices", not aimed at high-rollers, but allowing more continuous and faster gambling.

Dr Livingstone warned that if the casino was allowed the terminals, clubs would be demanding them as well, given they are allowed in NSW clubs.

On fully automated table games gamblers play casino-style table games but operate their own electronic terminals, without a casino employee conducting the game.

Greens gambling spokesman Shane Rattenbury said last year he would be concerned if the casino was granted full automated table games, but he said this week that the important thing was that each terminal at a fully-automated table game was being treated as a separate poker machine under the trading scheme.

That means the casino must buy a poker machine licence from a club to operate a multi-player terminal.

Asked why the casino was being given the right to operate fully automated table games, Mr Ramsay said it allowed people "to engage in different ways" in gambling, and was a way the casino "may wish to expand its areas of work".

The bill makes no mention of tax rates, and it is not clear whether the casino will face a different tax regime to clubs, which pay among the lowest gambling taxes in the country. Nor does the bill say how much the casino will have to contribute to the problem gambling fund. Clubs have to contribute 0.75 per cent of poker machine profits. Mr Barr said taxes and the levy were "subject to further negotiation".

The casino said it was reviewing the legislation and had no comment.

Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said the club model in place for more than 40 years had returned poker machine profits to the community, and it was "a sad day" to allow them in the casino.

Kirsten Lawson is news director at The Canberra Times

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