NSW club buildings get tax break

by William Brown Last Updated
New South Wales clubs lobby investigating digital gambling wallet 

New South Wales clubs and RSLs are building on-site retirement villages, daycare centres and hotels using special exemptions from planning laws granted by the state government in a push to diversify from their dependency on poker machine profits.

The Sydney Morning Herald has identified more than 20 clubs in New South Wales with developments either planned or underway, in a construction race worth hundreds of millions of dollars, prompting some critics to warn of the dangers of co-locating homes for the elderly with pokies venues.

“To have elderly people living next to predatory and addictive gambling machines is not a good social outcome,” said northern beaches Councillor Pat Daley, who has campaigned against the spread of poker machines in the area.

Sports clubs and RSL are using a fast-track to rezoning, known as a Site Compatibility Certificate, to get approval for developments, which can go well beyond what local planning rules allow, such as height limits.

These SCCs are made without community involvement or notification of neighbours.

Between 2009 and 2015, just four clubs applied for an SCC.

But since 2016 there have been 22 clubs, including Blacktown Workers Club (640 units) and Castle Hill RSL (321 units plus 90-bed residential aged care) applying to build seniors’ housing using SCCs.

In total, there are now more than 2650 residential aged care units being built or planned by clubs in New South Wales via the SCC rule.

The method has proven lucrative.

Luxury apartments at Mounties

The state’s most profitable poker machine club, Mounties, based in south-western Sydney used the SCC rule to help build 96 “luxury apartments” on the northern beaches at the Harbord Diggers as part of a $160 million redevelopment that includes a child care centre spread over two levels.

Apartment prices currently start at $2.6 million.

Dee Why RSL added 76 apartments for over-55s to its site on Sydney’s northern beaches in 2010 and diversified into other investment properties, ten-pin bowling, a car wash, childcare centre and a petrol station.

Its seniors’ living village, where one-bedroom apartments sell for more than $750,000, generated more than $1 million on profit before tax in 2016 and 2017.

A spokeswoman for the club declined to comment.

A ClubsNSW spokesman said reports from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal and the McKell Institute recommended clubs provide social services such as child care and aged care because of their sizable facilities and community networks.

“Over the past decade or so, clubs have built much-needed community infrastructure, such as child care centres, aged care and seniors living facilities, cancer centres and doctors’ surgeries, as well as commercial office towers and hotels,” the ClubsNSW spokesman said.

“Clubs are filling a gap with these projects, which otherwise would not be built.

“Many of the clubs who have embarked on a diversification strategy have experienced a marked reduction in their reliance on gaming revenue.”

Economist and former treasury official Betty Con Walker, said many of the state’s major clubs – particularly those building hotels on-site- had become indistinguishable from casinos and were enjoying rapid growth due to tax concessions originally granted so they could help serve their communities.

“Club spending on aged care homes and other services is indicative of the hugely profitable gambling machine businesses they operate,” she said.

“Whilst clubs paid state gaming tax, according to the government’s own figures, concessional club tax rates will cost the state budget $907 million this year alone.

“If clubs paid tax at the same rate as pubs, the state would have around $1 billion more each year to spend on essential services.”

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