Canberra's pubs have asked the ACT government for 200 poker machines, saying if clubs and the casino are allowed poker machines, they should be too.
The request is set to spark new debate in a highly charged sector, as clubs scramble to respond to the looming cut to poker machine numbers from 5000 to 4000 and the government's decision to allow 200 machines in the casino.
Australian Hotels Association ACT president Michael Capezio wants 200 poker machines across about 20 hotels, with a maximum of 10 per venue.
Describing the trading scheme set up two years ago allowing clubs to buy and sell machines among themselves as a "rort", he said clubs had originally been given their poker machine licences free.
They were now big business, running commercial operations well beyond the work they did in the community, and their monopoly on poker machines was no longer justified, he said, pointing to NSW and other states where clubs had lost their monopoly to hotels and other venues many years ago.
"Realistically there is no difference between a club and a pub - what we offer and what they offer is very similar," he said. "We are as much part of the community."
Once the casino got poker machines, it would use that revenue to expand and drag business away from hotels, he said.
"Our argument is leave the status quo as it is, or if the casino gets machines and is allowed to participate in the trading scheme so should we," he said.
"When a club can provide a heavily subsidised meal at a loss then they are a real competitor and they can do that on the back of revenue from gambling. Good luck to them, but it's got to be fair. And by giving machines to the casino it just distorts it even further."
Mr Capezio has suggested pubs pay the same community contributions percentage as clubs - but into an independent fund. At the moment, clubs have to spend at least 8 per cent of after-tax and after-expenses revenue from poker machines on community groups, which for many means their sporting clubs.
Clubs already had the advantage of lower tax rates - lower gambling taxes, no income tax and a new 50 per cent rebate from July - and hotels were not asking for the same concessions, so would continue to pay more tax than clubs, he said.
To date, pubs have only been allowed the outdated "class B" machines, but since 2015 those machines are being phased out altogether.
Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said the timing of the hotel's push for machines was "interesting but understandable if the government is prepared to give them to a foreign owned casino and ignore Canberra-owned pubs and taverns".
Separately, Clubs ACT is trying to get on the front foot in the wake of damaging reports about problem gambling and the use of eftpos machines to circumvent ATM limits.
Clubs ACT is consulting clubs on a position paper that it will put to government, which suggests a cap on machine numbers in any one club of 280 - a move that would force the Tradies club in Dickson, with 347 machines, and the Labor Club in Belconnen, with 282, to cut numbers. Both are rival clubs who defected from Clubs ACT, and a 280-machine cap would avoid damaging any of the venues that belong to Clubs ACT - the Southern Cross Club in Woden is its biggest single venue, with 280 machines.
Clubs ACT also calls on the government to help clubs that want to get out of gambling altogether by waiving or deferring lease variation taxes and by offering tax rebates to hand back machines.
Clubs have suggested a government "problem gambling intervention officer" charged with entering clubs, monitoring and approaching people suspected of problem gambling, and managing exclusions from clubs. It has suggested a working group to oversee and strengthen the handling of problem gambling across clubs.
Clubs ACT said clubs must be ready "and have in place a plan for reducing their gaming machine numbers" before the government begins compulsory cuts later this year. The government is believed to be looking at a pro-rata handback from clubs.