Clubs launch campaign against casino pokies bid
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Clubs launch campaign against casino pokies bid

Clubs ACT will fight the casino's bid for the right to operate 500 pokie machines.

Canberra's clubs have launched a campaign to enlist the public in the fight against the casino's bid for poker machines.

The campaign stresses the force of numbers that clubs can bring to bear, with 200,000 members across the city.

Gwyn Rees, head of Clubs ACT: No more compromise.

Gwyn Rees, head of Clubs ACT: No more compromise.

Lobbyist Richard Farmer has already threatened an election challenge to Chief Minister Andrew Barr if he allows 500 poker machines in the casino, and others have pointed to the power of clubs to mobilise a grassroots campaign given their wide reach.

This week, Clubs ACT head Gwyn Rees launched an online petition and campaign, which portrays the clubs industry as a big supporter of the community, but an industry under seige.

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The campaign, which talks up clubs' support of children's sport, ethnic groups and the elderly, will feature on social media, coasters, posters and television and radio advertisements. The Labor Party-owned Labor Clubs are part of the campaign, having already passed a board resolution opposing poker machines in the casino.

Mr Rees said "constant compromise" had been forced on clubs over the past decade, with bans on using $50 and $100 notes in poker machines, smoking bans, restrictions on cash from ATM machines at clubs, a problem gambling levy, an increase in the amount clubs must pay in community contributions, extra training rules, and higher taxes.

Clubs had also been hit with the most expensive liquor fees in the country, hikes of more than 400 per cent in tap water charges, big increases in rates, and water charges among the country's most expensive.

"We even have to pay for water we catch in our own dams on our golf courses," Mr Rees said.

If poker machines were allowed in the casino, clubs would close across Canberra.

He rejected the suggestion clubs should compromise. "If you consider the background, it's extremely difficult to see why we should acquiesce," he told a gathering at the launch of his campaign.

The new casino owner, Aquis Entertainment, has put a $330 million redevelopment bid to the ACT government, including refurbishing the convention centre. But in return the casino wants the right to operate 500 poker machines. At the moment, poker machines are exclusively in the hands of clubs, with the Canberra casino the only one in the country not allowed to operate them.

Mr Barr would not say whether a decision on the casino bid would be made before the election. And he remained unconcerned at the prospect of club members being mobilising against the government.

"There will be numerous campaigns run, it's the festival of democracy," he said. "... I don't think any one specific campaign is going to cause any more concern than any others."

Mr Rees also pointed to the possibility of more change for clubs this year, with the Gambling and Racing Commission looking at how clubs market themselves, loyalty programs and community contributions.

Clubs supported more than 1000 community groups, including more than 50 cultural and religious groups. Clubs donated $11 million a year to the community, and maintained more than 400 hectares of green space for sports – more than the ACT government's 300 hectares, Mr Rees said. Clubs employed 2300 people.

Kirsten Lawson is news director at The Canberra Times

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