The ACT government will finally introduce legislation on Thursday to allow 200 poker machines in the casino, breaking the long-held monopoly of Canberra's clubs.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr's office has confirmed the legislation will be introduced this week, but has not given any detail. It remains unclear what restrictions will be placed on poker machines in the casino, with the Greens saying they will only support the move if gamblers are limited to $1 spins, instead of the $10 allowed in clubs, and if gamblers are forced to decide upfront how much they will gamble.
Two years ago, the casino unveiled a $330 million redevelopment of the Glebe Park precinct in the city, with swank hotels, shops and restaurants, but the plan included 500 poker machines.
The government gave its support early last year for 200 poker machines. A year ago, the casino prepared a formal business case, which has not been released.
The move sparked an expensive protest campaign from the clubs industry in the lead-up to last year's election.
In a statement to the Australian stock exchange in June, Aquis chief executive Jessica Mellor said the casino's revised $307 million development proposal still included six-star villa accommodation and a five-star hotel, seven new restaurants, a night club and bars, a luxury brand shopping mall, and a day spa, with extra car parking and new road access.
On Tuesday, the ACT parliament passed legislation that delivers a 50 per cent tax cut to seven of the city's 50 clubs.
The government says the tax cut, which will cost about $1 million a year, will help clubs diversify away from gambling. But only seven clubs qualify, and there are three big beneficiaries. The Belconnen Soccer Club will save about $320,000 a year in poker machine taxes. The Burns Club will save about $270,000 a year and the Magpies will save about $204,000. Small clubs already pay no tax, and clubs earning more than $4 million a year from pokies don't qualify.
Liberal gambling spokesman Mark Parton said the tax cut was an "enormous gift to Labor-friendly clubs" - a reference to a new government-supproted clubs industry group which includes the Belconnen Soccer and Burns clubs.
"We can't support this government handing back $5 million [over four years] in forgone revenue primarily to three clubs with no real checks and balances on how they spend the money", he said.
The tax rebate was designed to reward clubs that didn't take part in the election campaign, he said.
"It was a policy entirely based around finding a reward for those clubs who chose not to raise an opinion contrary to that of the government," he said. "This was a thought bubble from a desperate government .. announced for no other reason than to stem the bleeding of support from the clubs sector."
The Liberals would support lease variation waivers for clubs, a better grants scheme for smaller clubs than the $10,000 offered by the government, and more evenly shared tax breaks, but not the narrowly targeted 50 per cent rebate, he said.
Greens gambling spokesman Shane Rattenbury said the scheme would give some clubs access to the cash they needed to find new business models.
Gaming minister Gordon Ramsay said the tax break was an election promise and the government would not step away from its election commitments.
The parliament also passed laws to limit cash out at eftpos machines in clubs to $200 a transaction, starting September 1.
While initially supporting the new limit, former problem gambler Laurie Brown said had since spoken to other problem gamblers and come to believe a $200 limit per transaction was misguided and might have very little overall impact on problem gambling.
"I have spoken with other problem gamblers, and some have said that if they went to get cash out from the eftpos under a $200 transaction limit, they would just ask the staff to do repeat withdrawals until they got the amount of money they wanted," she said.
She had no confidence that staff would intervene if someone was making multiple withdrawals, she said, calling on the government to monitor the outcomes closely.