Raiders chief Simon Hawkins says clubs will close if the casino is allowed to install poker machines, and the Raiders group will call a halt to its $18 million expansion of its Gungahlin club.
The Raiders group general manager has taken his concerns direct to Chief Minister Andrew Barr and is not reassured by the response.
"The government seems to be fairly keen to explore [the casino's request]," he said. "I've spoken to the Chief Minister personally. He's certainly open minded to it."
But Mr Hawkins said the move would be devastating for Canberra's club industry, and would result in the Raiders calling off the redevelopment of the Gungahlin club, which was to have started next year.
Clubs had built businesses around exclusive access to poker machines, and allowing pokies in the casino would be a massive change.
"It would rip the carpet out from under our business," he said. "It's just a complete change in direction. It's not that easy to say let's go down a different path, we've been working on the businesses for 40 years so you can't just change it on a whim. That's why a lot of clubs will close."
Mr Barr rejected Mr Hawkins' concerns.
"Clubs have opened and closed, and expanded and contracted, for a variety of reasons, unrelated to the casino, in recent times," he said.
"It is hard to imagine that the transfer of a limited number of poker machines from one operator to another would have such a dramatic impact on viability. But nevertheless, the government will examine the claims of the Raiders group."
Mr Barr said the trading scheme ensured that if the casino bought poker machines, overall numbers would fall. The scheme required one in four machines to be forfeit when they are bought, so for the casino to end up with 500 machines, about 165 others would be taken out of circulation.
The Raiders club is the third biggest owner of poker machines in Canberra, with 526 machines across its three venues – about half of which are in Gungahlin.
The Raiders is also the only club to have bought machines under the trading scheme which began in August, adding 45 machines to its tally.
Mr Hawkins said the decision to buy poker machines had been made before the club knew of the casino's bid, and at the time had "seemed appropriate" given the growing population in Gungahlin and the expansion of the club there.
The casino's new owners, Aquis Entertainment, have put a bid to Mr Barr to spend $330 million redeveloping the central city site, including an expansion into parkland behind and two hotels. A carrot for the government is Aquis's offer to build a 3300 square metres extension to the National Convention Centre, with the revamp of the convention centre high on the government's agenda, and to pay for another plan on the government's to-do list – a wetlands in Glebe Park.
But project relies on being allowed 500 poker machines because, Aquis says, you "can't have a supermarket that doesn't sell eggs or milk".
The government recently bought the parkland from the private owners and will consider making part of it available to the casino.
If the casino was allowed 500 machines it would have the biggest concentration of machines in one venue by far, Mr Hawkins said. The biggest single venue at the moment is the Tradesmen's Union Club in Dickson, with 340 machines, followed by the Canberra Labor Club in Belconnen with 282.
Canberrans would head to the casino because there were fewer restrictions on entry and more gambling options, he said.
Aquis says its expanded casino would bring almost 750,000 new visitors to Canberra, including high-end Chinese gamblers. But gambling researchers have questioned the claim, saying the reality of casino openings around the country is that locals end up losing by far the most on poker machines.
Mr Hawkins said since the Star Sydney casino opened, half of Sydney's city clubs had closed, and the impact in Canberra was likely to be greater, given most of the population lived within 20 minutes of the city.
The history of Australian casinos showed they targeted locals, even in Sydney where there was a big tourism market but 65 per cent of the casino's revenue came from locals. In Canberra the impact could be expected to be greater since a visitor would have to bypass "presumably better" casinos in bigger cities to get here.
Clubs ACT is analysing casino impacts on clubs in other states, acting chief executive Gwyn Rees said, backing the concerns of Mr Hawkins.
"Simon Hawkins is one of the most respected long-term CEO operators in the industry and in the Canberra region, so if he has a view it's an important one," Mr Rees said.
Mr Barr said a decision would not be made before next year.
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