Clubs ACT is selling its commercial property in Deakin to pay for its failed election campaign against poker machines in the casino.
The campaign wash-up has also seen some of its fiercest critics return to the fold and effectively take over the industry group, with Burns Club head Athol Chalmers made president of the new Clubs ACT board, and Tradies chief Rob Docker made vice-president.
CLubs ACT spent about $240,000 fighting the return of the Labor government and bankrolling Richard Farmer's team of candidates, in a strategy deeply opposed by some.
Ultimately, the Farmer team polled poorly and Labor was returned, clearing the way for the casino to get 200 poker machines which will end the clubs' monopoly on Canberra's most lucrative form of gambling.
Three clubs disaffiliated with Clubs ACT over its direction – the Labor Party's Labor clubs, the CFMEU's Tradies clubs, and the Burns Club.
The Labor clubs and the Tradies are among the biggest in town and because fees to Clubs ACT are based on poker machine revenue, losing their fees was a blow to the organisation. The Burns Club, with Labor candidate Karl Maftoum as junior vice-president, is influential among smaller clubs.
With talk of a new rival group being set up, Clubs ACT was in a perilous position.
But last week, the Woden Tradies and the Burns Club agreed to rejoin the industry group, and took on the role of president and vice-president. The Dickson Tradies is expected to follow suit in the future, but Labor remains out.
The Raiders have been blamed for spearheading the campaign against Labor, with critics accusing them of trying to protect their Queanbeyan club which has access to casino-style games not allowed in Canberra clubs.
The Raiders have lost the presidency of Clubs ACT – Max Mercer standing down – although they retain a presence on the board in Dub Kolobaric.
The new board meets for the first time on Monday.
Chief executive Gwyn Rees confirmed its unit in a building in Thesiger Court, Deakin is being sold to "recoup funds expended from our asset reserves" on the campaign. An offer had been accepted, under $400,000, with contracts yet to be exchanged.
Despite the financial hit, he rejected the suggestion that it had been a mistake give the Canberra Community Voters $185,000 for their election bid. The club group had had no choice, given its own spending was limited by the $40,000 cap on election spending, he said.
"It was the only option available to us because of the electoral cap issue," he said. "The complexity around managing that was quite significant."
Mr Rees said the campaign had been important to shift the focus on gambling and explain how much clubs gave to the community.
"What we needed to do was we needed to get out there and tell the community about the role that clubs play," he said.
The industry had the choice to "sit here and play it safe" or run a campaign to expose the "pretty serious issues" it faced, he said.
It had succeeded to the extent that the casino's bid for 500 machines had been reduced to 200.
The return of the Burns and Woden Tradies clubs was a "reuniting of the industry" in the face of big challenges to come with the new Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement, he said.
While most of the Greens' demands were rejected by Labor, the parties have agreed to reduce the number of poker machines to 4000 by July 2020. There are almost 5000 machines at the moment.
The problem gambling levy will also be increased from 0.6 per cent of pokie profits to 0.75 per cent. And the compulsory community contribution scheme will be reviewed.
At the moment clubs must give 8 per cent of pokies revenue to the community, but most goes to the sporting codes. The Greens are pushing for money to go to a separate fund from which groups can apply for grants.
Mr Rees said clubs trying to diversify and use their land for new businesses were facing prohibitive lease variation tax; others were struggling with water and rates bills.
"Just to open the door, turn the lights on and get someone serving behind the bar or in the restaurant is enormously expensive," he said.
While the clubs campaign failed to oust Labor, some point to Labor's campaign promise of $10,000 grants and a tax break for small clubs as a win.
It is unclear when the government will introduce legislation to allow poker machines in the casino, and what extra demands the Greens will make. Shane Rattenbury has said he will only support pokies in the casino if they have $1 maximum bets and mandatory precommitment.
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