The ACT government has extended semi-automated table games in Canberra Casino and allowed multi-terminal games, so gamblers can play baccarat, roulette and sic bo at individual screens.
Previously, the casino was limited to rapid roulette as a semi-automated game, with the rest played only as traditional table games.
The number of terminals has been increased, from 22 for rapid roulette, to 50 for the multi-terminal games.
The change comes as the government confirmed a reduction in staff in the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission, down 28 per cent on this time last year.
Also last week, the government introduced legislation to allow interstate visitors to visit clubs without needing to be signed in by a club member, and to reduce the need for payout signs near poker machines.
Canberra's gambling arena has changed markedly in the past year, with clubs now able to buy and sell poker machines and the casino getting the green light for up to 200 pokies.
Last week, the casino opened a revamped gaming floor in its efforts to boost visitors and profitability, and ahead of an expansion for which a business case is expected to be with government within days, if not already. Most casinos nationwide – and clubs in NSW – are allowed fully automated table games, in which the same is played entirely on individual screens, and Canberra's casino wants these games as part of its redevelopment bid.
The decision to allow multi-terminal games and expand semi-automated games was not announced, but made by notifiable instrument on the government's legislation register.
A spokesman said a dealer must be present at all times and control the game. The players insert money into their terminals, and choose what game to play and how much to bet using the screen. In the case of roulette, there was still a physical roulette wheel; for sic bo the dice tumbler must still be activated by the operator, and for baccarat the dealer still dealt the cards.
Australian National University gambling researcher Francis Markham said there was little research into the harm from semi-automated or automated table games compared with the harm from traditional casino tables, but the more software based the game, the more addictive they could become.
The bigger the venue, the more people would gamble, and the more automated the games, the fewer the jobs, he said.
The government is yet to comment on the casino's request for fully automated games, but the Greens' Shane Rattenbury is concerned about the high-profit, rapid-turnover games.
"While these recent changes refer to semi-automated games, which still involve oversight from one staff member across a number of machines, I would be concerned if the casino was moving to automate more and more machines," he said.
Monash University gambling expert Charles Livingstone predicted that if the casino were allowed fully automated table games, clubs would be demanding them soon after – given that bigger NSW clubs are already allowed them.
"Slot machines" were the bread and butter of the gambling industry, and the new table games were heading in the same direction, allowing more continuous and faster gambling.
"My sense is that they are likely to be quite dangerous devices and they're certainly not the kind of thing that's going to attract your high-rollers and exotic gamblers. James Packer is not going to drop into Canberra Casino in his Aston Martin and play automated table games," he said.
The ACT gambling commission was folded into Access Canberra last year. It now has 22.6 staff compared with 29 at the same time last year. A spokesman said compliance and investigation numbers were down from 11.6 to eight, regulation staff were down from seven to 6.4, secretariat down from six to 3.8, and policy and research numbers were constant, at 4.4.
Staff were also now required to work "on a variety of regulatory matters across Access Canberra's portfolio", and Access Canberra staff, especially senior management, helped the commission.
A bill introduced last week will remove the requirement for clubs to display signs declaring the percentage payouts in poker machine areas (there will still be minimum required payouts, even without the signs) and removed the rule saying the placement of signs must be approved by the gambling commissioner, instead including a clause saying the gaming minister can approve a statement to be displayed on each gaming machine. The legislation makes no reference to the kind of statement the minister might require, if any, but the explanatory memorandum refers to harm minimisation messages.