ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has ruled out allowing as many as 500 poker machines in the Canberra casino, but has not made a decision on whether some machines will be permitted.
At present poker machines are allowed only in the city's clubs – which have just under 5000 pokies between them. But the government is considering a bid from the new owners of Canberra's casino to be given access to poker machines as part of a $330 million redevelopment of the casino and surrounds, including upgrading the convention centre.
The casino wanted 500 machines, but Mr Barr said on Monday night that cabinet had rejected the number as too high.
If some poker machines were allowed, the casino would be forced to pay more tax than clubs, to make higher community contributions than clubs and put in place more harm minimisation measures "over and above" those in clubs, he said.
He did not release other aspects of the government's thinking, beyond saying the government was still considering the bid in detail and would go public once it had told the casino of its final decision.
"There are certainly elements of the bid that have merit and that will create new jobs," he said.
If the government decided to allow Aquis to take its bid to the next stage, Aquis would submit a detailed business case.
The clubs are fighting hard to retain exclusive access to poker machines, saying their businesses depend on it – and if pokies are allowed in the casino, clubs will close.
The position of balance-of-power Green Shane Rattenbury will be crucial in the decision.
While the Greens took a policy to the last election opposing any liberalisation of poker machine rules and supporting their restriction to not-for-profit clubs, in December last year, Mr Rattenbury asked his party to reconsider its opposition to poker machines in the casino.
He suggested it might be better to have a smaller number of venues with poker machines rather than having them "spread throughout the suburbs" in family venues such as clubs.
He said if the casino was allowed poker machines, clubs would have a willing buyer, allowing them to diversify away from gambling.
It is unclear what the Greens have decided.
In March, Mr Rattenbury said the Greens had reservations about the bid, just as they did about having 5000 poker machines in clubs across the ACT.
"We want to minimise gambling harm in the community, so any support for the casino proposal would need to be with a range of requirements towards harm minimisation," he said then.
The chief executive of Clubs ACT, Gwyn Rees, called on Mr Rattenbury this week to come to a firm decision. Opposition to "the proliferation and expansion of casinos" was "part of the Greens' DNA" in other states, he said.
He also pointed to the need for unsolicited bids to meet a public interest test, including an assessment of what impact it would have on the community and the surrounding environment.