The Labor Club has become the third major club to buy poker machines in the trading scheme established by Gaming Minister Joy Burch in August, buying 20 machines from the Italo Australian club.
While the government claims a mission to help clubs reduce reliance on gambling profits, the Labor Party controlled club group remains among the top four pokie owners, now with 503 machines to its name.
The government's trading scheme allows big clubs to buy up to 20 machines without having to do a social impact assessment.
The news came as a new model emerged to allow poker machines into the casino, under which the big clubs could form a consortium to establish a club on the casino premises. The model is being discussed among clubs, but it is unclear whether the casino would entertain it.
Asked on Friday, a spokesman for Aquis Entertainment said having clubs running the poker machine arm was "not part of the plan".
"It's a complex proposal that has multiple layers and poker machines are only one small element of the proposal," he said of the casino's bid. Aquis was making no further comment while its bid was before the government.
The Liberals are suggesting the Labor Party might use the casino bid as a way out of the gambling industry, selling its club's poker machines to the casino.
Labor Club president Mark Nelson, who replaced long-serving president Tony Luchetti recently, did not return calls on Friday.
But assuming the government would rather spread the benefits more widely, club sources suggest a combined "club casino" operating in the casino could satisfy all sides and leave the government's community gambling model intact.
The casino, which has put a $330 million redevelopment bid for the inner city site to the government, wants 500 poker machines. With Raiders chief Simon Hawkins warning recently that clubs would close if the casino was given poker machines, the Labor Club's city venue just five minutes' walk away and with 64 poker machines, might well feel the biggest impact.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is open to the bid but has said little on the detail, other than pointing to the big reduction it would mean in overall numbers.
Under the new trading scheme, every time four machines are bought or sold, one is forfeit, allowing the overall number of machines to gradually reduce. If the casino got 500, about 165 extras would be forfeit.
Since the system began in August, 100 machines have been bought (60 by the Raiders, 20 by the Mawson Club and 20 by the Labor Club), with 25 of them forfeit, bringing total numbers down from 5022 to 4997.
In other shifts in the industry, Jeff House, chief executive of Clubs ACT and a powerful advocate for the industry, has been appointed deputy director general of arts, business, events, sport and tourism in the economic development unit of Mr Barr's directorate, a job with a remuneration package of $311,000 to $326,600. Mr House succeeds Gary Rake, a former head of the National Capital Authority, who has left the role.
While economic development deals with gambling and the casino's bid for poker machines, Mr House has stressed that his role plays no part in gambling policy or the casino bid. A government spokesman said that while Invest Canberra, which reports to Mr House, is considering the casino bid, a special group has been set up to report directly to economic development director general David Dawes to ensure Mr House has no role.
Mr House, a former chief of staff to deputy chief minister Ted Quinlan until 2006, worked with the Green Building Council, the Property Council, Airservices Australia before taking the Clubs ACT job in 2010. He has resigned from the Labor Party for his new role.
His former deputy at Clubs ACT, Gwyn Rees, has taken over as chief executive. Asked about the idea of clubs operating poker machines in a casino-based club on Friday, Mr Rees said he hadn't heard of the suggestion and had no comment.
Jane Easthope, head of Canberra CBD, is strongly in favour of the casino's bid, but said it was a shame such a major proposal appeared to hinge on pokies.
"Clearly we want the development to proceed because it will activate that whole city east area and any of the images you see, you just get terribly excited about it," she said. "I think it's fabulous as a message to investors outside of Canberra ... but the challenge is how to actually balance the needs and the influence, if you like, of the clubs sector."
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