Casino Canberra Set to Install 200 Poker Machines
In a stunning reversal of longstanding policy, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government recently approved an application by Casino Canberra which grants the gaming establishment access to 200 poker machines.
Under the ACT government’s strict regulations on the gambling industry, the number of pokies (known as slot machines or fruit machines outside of Australia) authorized to operate within the ACT has historically been capped at 5,200. Furthermore, under the policy of the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission, this limited selection of pokies could only be housed in community clubs and hotels.
Casino Canberra originally applied for access to 500 pokie machines back in 2014, as part of a proposed $330 million renovation and redevelopment bid submitted to the ACT government. Following a series of negotiations and counteroffers, Chief Minister Barr settled on a figure of 200 machines, along with several other stipulations.
According to the Canberra Times, “to be allowed 200 (pokies), the casino would have to resubmit a new development proposal, pay higher taxes than clubs, make higher community donations than clubs, and have more stringent harm minimization measures than clubs.” Chief Minister Barr reiterated that position, telling the Canberra Times that “only once the work is complete … would the casino be allowed to operate poker machines, assuming clubs want to sell them the licenses.”
Among the other stipulations included in the ACT government’s offer is a provision which states that the 200 pokies assigned to Casino Canberra would not come on top of the 5,200 limit already in place. Instead, the casino’s operators will be forced to purchase inventory from local community clubs – the very clubs who will be faced with increased competition from Casino Canberra.
Prior sales of pokie by hotels and clubs have pegged the average purchase price at around $18,000 per, meaning any club which eventually agrees to sell Casino Canberra an allotment of 267 machines could easily clear upwards of $4.8 million. The 267 machine figure is based on the ACT government’s trading scheme, in which one out of every four machines must be forfeited as part of the ACT government’s ongoing effort to reduce the total number of pokies within its jurisdiction.
Not surprisingly, the close-knit network of community clubs in the ACT has been vocal in its criticism for the move. Gwyn Rees, chief executive for Clubs ACT, decried the government’s new policy in a public statement, saying “The ACT Government has attacked Canberra’s club industry for far too long. The Government has deliberately chosen not to consult the industry, which is very disappointing and frustrating, and will leave the community clubs very angry. We remain opposed to any erosion of the community gaming model.”
Other points of contention for Canberra club owners include fears that pokie-generated income would be siphoned to “foreign owners” like Tony Fung, the Chinese business mogul and chairman of Aquis Entertainment, the new owners of Casino Canberra.