Less profits, bigger penalties: huge changes on the way for ACT clubs
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Less profits, bigger penalties: huge changes on the way for ACT clubs

Clubs will be required to surrender more of their poker machine profits and penalties for breaking gaming laws will be beefed up, in a suite of gambling measures to be introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

ACT Gambling Minister Gordon Ramsay will table draft laws to overhaul the territory's community contributions scheme, and to follow the recommendations of the Neville Stevens review into club diversification ahead of the reduction of the number of gaming machines in Canberra from 5000 to 4000.

ACT Gaming Gordon Ramsay says having poker machines is a privilege.

ACT Gaming Gordon Ramsay says having poker machines is a privilege. Credit:Karleen Minney

Clubs will keep control of their current 8 per cent community contribution but will be hit with an extra 0.8 per cent on top, meaning they will have to surrender a total of 8.8 per cent of their net gaming revenue.

Half of the extra money will go to address gambling harm minimisation and prevention, and will be distributed by government on the advice of the Gambling and Racing Commission.

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Mr Ramsay said this 0.4 per cent levy would be on top of the existing Problem Gambling Assistance Levy, which requires clubs to contribute 0.75 per cent of their gross gaming revenue to a central fund.

The other 0.4 per cent will go to the Chief Minister’s Charitable Fund, which is being administered by Hands Across Canberra.

Mr Ramsay said despite the controversy over the diversion of money into this fund, Hands Across Canberra had a long history of good work in Canberra.

"It has a good track record, it has good oversight, it has good governance," Mr Ramsay said.

"We wanted to make sure that organisations that don’t currently get involved in the clubs processes are able to receive some of the funding as well and we believe that this establishment of this ongoing source of revenue for the Chief Minister’s Charitable Fund will be of great benefit to the community as a whole."

A cap of 2 per cent will also be introduced on in-kind contributions for large clubs and clubs groups.

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Mr Ramsay said the cap - which equated to 25 per cent of community contributions controlled by clubs - was similar to that imposed in NSW, which has a cap of 20 per cent.

Already, roughly a quarter of community contributions are in-kind, although clubs have been criticised in the past for claiming donations like room hire under the scheme.

Clubs who fail to meet their community contribution obligations will also be slugged a “shortfall tax”, which will require them to pay 150 per cent of their underspend.

Currently clubs are taxed the same amount as their shortfall.

The increase is to incentivise clubs to meet their community contribution obligations.

Mr Ramsay said while he understood the stress that clubs relying on falling gaming revenues were under, having poker machines was a privilege.

"That’s the whole basis of the community contributions scheme, clubs acknowledging there is a privilege they have," Mr Ramsay said.

Mr Ramsay will also table an exposure draft setting out new requirements to make community contributions more transparent.

The allowable categories will be redefined to: charitable; recreational; education; social inclusion, equality or cultural diversity, community sport, addressing substance misuse or dependence, women’s sport; or natural disaster relief or assistance.

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Claims for professional sports - including wages, coaches, other staff - will also be prohibited unless they are explicitly for women’s sport.

Payments of fines for melees or for match forfeitures will be banned under the new community contributions scheme, as will claims related to staff entitlements, like mobile phones.

Facilities maintenance will also be banned as a community contribution, unless the club can prove there is a connection to supporting women’s sport.

Clubs will also be required to publish their annual reports to demonstrate how the community contributions are being used in the context of the clubs’ wider operations.

The Gambling and Racing Commission will also be given new tools to enforce the ACT's gaming laws.

Under the draft laws, the commission will be able to slap enforceable undertakings on clubs that break the rules that will be published on a public register.

The maximum financial penalty the commission can issue will be raised from $100,000 to $1 million or 10 per cent of gross gaming machine revenue over the past year.

The commission will also have the option to fine a club three times the amount the gambler had lost.

A new obligation will be placed on club directors to reduce gambling harm, in addition to their existing duties to act in good faith in the best interests of the club and for a proper purpose.

“We know that clubs are great places for building community, for building relationships, for building connections rather than places that are primarily about gambling and this is about getting that balance right," Mr Ramsay said.

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

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