Big changes on the way for ACT gaming sector
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Big changes on the way for ACT gaming sector

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay says "more robust regulation" of Canberra's gambling industry will be introduced into the territory's parliament this month, as clubs hit back at plans to overhaul the community contributions scheme.

The government has agreed to six of the eight recommendations in the Auditor-General's report on ACT clubs' community contributions, which found there was poor oversight of how the funds were being used.

Mr Ramsay said independent of the audit, the government was already reviewing the scheme, with options for a new scheme out for public comment at the moment.

He also said changes would be made to the Gambling and Racing Code of Practice, following on from Professor Laurie Brown's complaint against the Belconnen Raiders Club and the the gambling harm minimisation roundtables with industry.

"The purpose of that reform will be to ensure that our regulators have the tools they need to enforce our harm minimisation rules," he said.

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"Our gambling industry regulations are in place to ensure that first and foremost, our community is protected against gambling harm. Those regulations also ensure that the industry delivers real, direct benefits to the community and serves to support people and organisations."

On top of this, Mr Ramsay said the findings of the ACT Club Industry Diversification Support Analysis would be released in August, which would help cut the number of poker machines in Canberra from 5000 to 4000.

However it is unclear whether that review - being conducted by former Commonwealth departmental secretary Neville Stevens - will take into account any poker machines acquired by the casino.

In April, Mr Ramsay gave Aquis Entertainment one month to progress their $330 million unsolicited bid to redevelop the Canberra Casino precinct in exchange for permission to operate up to 200 poker machines.

Under new laws introduced last year, the casino will have to forfeit one in three gaming machine licences it buys, which could mean a huge reduction in the number of poker machines in the ACT.

But on the eve of the deadline, the government gave Aquis an indefinite extension to progress the proposal for reasons they are yet to explain.

An ACT government spokeswoman confirmed no new deadline had been set for Aquis to bring forward their bid.

"The government is currently working through a response to the matters raised by Aquis. The timeframe will be settled as part of this process,' she said.

"The extension of time will not impact on the review or the government’s commitment to reducing the number of gaming machine authorisations in the ACT. We are working assiduously towards achieving that commitment, in consultation with the club industry."

However the terms of reference for the Stevens review said clubs could be forced to surrender their pokies from next April if the 4000 cap was not reached. 

The clubs industry is also railing against the proposal to pool community contributions in a central fund, warning some community groups will miss out if clubs lose control over the funds.

"If your community group or sporting club is supported by your local community club, beware ... things may be about to change," a letter from Clubs ACT reads.

"Clubs supported over 1000 local community groups and organisations last year. If the model changes it’s inevitable that some groups will miss out."

Opposition gaming spokesman Mark Parton said the proposal would "trash" community clubs' successful model which had served the community "so well, for so many years".

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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