For the first time in four months poker machines in the ACT are set to be switched on from Friday.
The reopening will be welcome relief for Canberra clubs, but grave concerns remain for vulnerable people rushing back to the pokies after a hiatus which as come as a relief to many.
Friday's planned easing of restrictions will allow casinos, gaming and gambling venues to reopen, but may be put on hold after three cases of COVID-19, linked to the Melbourne outbreak, were detected in the ACT on Wednesday.
Alliance for Gambling Reform executive director Tony Mohr was concerned people would flock to gaming venues, as had happened in NSW when gaming was allowed from June 1.
In the first week, there was a 15 per cent increase in machine revenue compared to the same time last year, despite only 60 per cent of machines being in use.
"When poker machines have opened up again, it has been either the same people coming back and gambling more heavily than before, or new people coming in," Mr Mohr said.
"That's really concerning."
Mr Mohr said although there was a jump in online gambling throughout the initial lockdown, most poker machine users had taken a break.
"We've had people call us expressing relief. It's been a real silver lining for a lot of people," he said.
Mr Mohr said Canberrans had saved around $46 million on poker machines since the forced closure in March.
Greens candidate for Kurrajong Rebecca Vassarotti said the pandemic had provided an opportunity for reform.
"We have been assured by gaming harm reduction advocates that $5 bet limits can be implemented without technical challenges, and we've seen it occur interstate," she said.
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay has said it should be discussed but would likely not be considered until the next parliamentary term.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has had a sizeable impact on our clubs operations and it is important that we give clubs a chance to recover and go back to being the great places of gathering an community support we know they can be," he said.
Gaming accounts for 40 per cent of the Southern Cross Club's revenue, and acting chief executive Wesley Willcott said the resumption of poker machines would provide financial stability after a difficult few months.
He said the club handed back 20 poker machines as part of the ACT Government's COVID-19 support program, to help pay staff wages.
As patrons return to pokies, Mr Willcott was confident venues had effective harm-minimisation programs in place and staff were trained to identify problem gambling.
Use of the high-touch machines will be one of the last restrictions to be lifted in the ACT.
Staff at Southern Cross Club venues will be stationed in gaming rooms regularly wiping down poker machines, ensuring patrons aren't mingling and making sure they maintain a 1.5-metre space between one another.
Anyone entering the club will have their temperature checked, contact details taken and hands sanitised.
Mr Willcott said the resumption of poker machines would allow around 30 staff to return to work.