ACT to start seizing poker machine licences

Nine clubs in Canberra will be forced to forfeit an extra poker machine licence each, after the voluntary surrender program narrowly missed its 4000-machine target.

And three clubs may be targeted again to give up another authorisation each, if numbers do not fall further through the trading scheme.

The ACT government will start compulsory acquisitions of poker machine licences next month.  Photo: Peter Braig

The ACT government will start compulsory acquisitions of poker machine licences next month. Photo: Peter Braig

The Raiders Group, Eastlake and the Southern Cross Club group will be hardest hit by the forced surrenders, which comes after a Labor-Greens pledge to reduce the numbers of gaming machines in Canberra to a maximum of 4000.

While clubs voluntarily forfeited 934 authorisations in exchange for cash bonuses and planning discounts, 12 licences still need to be handed back to met the cap. Nine machines will be seize in this first round from five clubs groups, with no incentives offered for their forfeiture.

Two licences will come from the Raiders Group - one each from their Gungahlin and Belconnen clubs.

The Mawson Club - which is affiliated with the Raiders clubs - will also have to give up an extra licence.

While the Raiders Group including Mawson Club gave up 123 licences out of a total of 693, netting around $1.8 million in planning offsets, the territory calculated the organisation should give up 136.

The Canberra Southern Cross Club group will have to give up an extra licence from both its Woden and Tuggeranong clubs. The group already opted to surrender 126 of its 680 authorisations, reaping more than $1.9 million in offsets. But by the government's calculations, the group should have surrendered 134.

Eastlake will also have to surrender another licence from both its Calwell and Kaleen clubs, despite surrendering 63 of its 363 machines in exchange for $945,000 in offsets. However the government believes they should have handed in 71 licences.

The Vikings Group will have to forfeit an extra licence from its Chisholm and Tuggeranong clubs, after already giving up 140 of its 715 authorisations. It received $2.1 million in offsets for doing so. The clubs group should have handed back 142 licences though, according to the government.

Ainslie Group's Gungahlin Lakes Golf and Community Club will also have to surrender another authorisation, after giving up 80 of its 423 licences in exchange for $1.2 million in offsets. By the government's calculations, they should have surrendered 83.

Asked whether it was fair, Ainslie Group chief executive Simon Patterson said: "I guess it is what it is and the club will need to comply as the Attorney-General has now made a determination."

The Raiders Group, and Eastlake Group may have to hand over another authorisation still if the number of licences do not fall further.

If the cap is not met after that, the Vikings group will have another licence seized, as the entity with the most machines in Canberra.

The territory government already foreshadowed a second round of compulsory acquisitions next year if the 4000 cap is not met through these seizures and through the trading scheme, in which clubs have to hand back one in every four licences they acquire.

An ACT government spokesman said acquisitions were about: "helping clubs transition away from gambling based revenue and making sure that clubs operate for the benefit of the Canberra community".

Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said clubs were not told the government had a figure in mind for their forfeiture.

He said poker machine authorisations traded at "many times the value offered by governments" and clubs should be commended for their efforts to reduce the number of machines "irrespective of any minor shortfall".

"What the handback demonstrated was clubs willingly engaging in the voluntary period to meet government objectives," Mr Rees said.

"The community should understand clearly that the incentives offered undervalue the machines and are offset substantially by the new taxes, fees and charges that will increase at 1 July for clubs.

"In some cases for clubs the incentives will not be realised at all and in most cases it is simply tax foregone."

However Canberra Community Clubs chair Athol Chalmers said his clubs were aware of their obligation to reduce their number of machines by 20 per cent in line with the government target.

On the compulsory acquisitions, he said: "they flagged they were going to do it and everyone knew it was coming".