ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has blasted Clubs ACT as a "wreckage" and a "joke" and says he will deal with the new Tradies-led industry group instead.
He was speaking during a debate on limiting cash from eftpos machines in clubs, in which the Liberals gambling spokesman Mark Parton strongly defended clubs and said more Canberrans were addicted to chocolate than to gambling.
Mr Parton later approached problem gambler Laurie Brown and her partner John Formby, who watched from the public gallery, telling them he hoped he hadn't caused offence.
Mr Formby said Mr Parton's comments were "stupid", with no chocolate addiction costing $200,000 in 18 months. Professor Brown said she hadn't been personally offended but didn't understand why Mr Parton was so strongly supportive of irresponsible clubs.
Mr Barr, clearly still angry at the campaign that Clubs ACT ran against him at the last election, said the group had gambled and lost badly. It had damaged its social capital to run poker machines, and the government would not deal with it, he said.
The new group Mr Barr will talk to is set up by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's Tradies clubs and might also include the Labor Party's own Labor clubs, but the membership has not been disclosed yet. It was set up after a vitriolic split in Clubs ACT over its decision to spend $240,000 fighting Labor's decision to allow poker machines in the casino and bankrolling anti-Labor election candidates.
The Greens also revealed tense relations with Clubs ACT. Shane Rattenbury he had been invited to meet chief executive Gwyn Rees and lobbyist Richard Farmer in Clubs ACT's offices in June last year, but they had walked out on the meeting after only six or seven minutes when the Greens explained their support for poker machines in the casino and $1 bets. Mr Rees says there was no walk out, but confirmed he had closed the meeting given the Greens push for $1 bets in clubs.
Labor agreed on Thursday to investigate a $250 limit on eftpos withdrawals in clubs. Putting his motion to parliament, Mr Rattenbury said limiting withdrawals should be the start of bigger reforms. The Greens would keep pushing for $1 bets, which would limit losses to about $120 an hour instead of the $1500 an hour gamblers can lose now.
Pokies were designed to manipulate gamblers through light, sound and repeated "near misses", tricking players into thinking they were winning, he said. The pattern of dopamine release among players was strikingly similar to cocaine and other addictions.
Labor supported Mr Rattenbury's call, but the Liberals' Mr Parton accused Mr Rattenbury of "a club-bashing crusade", attempting to demonise clubs which did much good in the community.
To Mr Rattenbury's figures showing Canberra has the highest number of poker machines per capita of any jurisdiction, Mr Parton said the city had the lowest rate of problem gamblers - about 1000 people, or just 0.4 per cent of the adult population.
"The ACT, certainly comparatively speaking, does not have a massive problem," he said. "We're not talking about a pandemic. We have more people addicted to chocolate in this town than are addicted to gambling."
Mr Rattenbury's "conspiracy theory" was wrong, with Australia having the world's slowest machines, and no "near miss" machines. Poker machines were entertaining and a legitimate leisure pastime, he said, calling on the government to help clubs diversify away from an industry that was being surpassed in any case by online gambling.
"Sometimes I'm not sure why those on the left spend so much time trying to bring the old dinosaur down because market forces will determine that it soons dies a natural death," he said.
Mr Parton said Prof Brown's story was proof that "if someone desperately wants to gain access to their own cash they'll probably find a way to do it". Limiting cash-out in clubs would not work in many cases and would make everyone's lives more complicated, he said. It would put food and beverage sales in clubs into serious and instant decline, and improve the aerobic fitness of problem gamblers as they walked around the corner to the nearest ATM.
"Clubs need respite from this onslaught," Mr Parton said. "I ask Mr Rattenbury to exercise tolerance and refrain from using blunt force."