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Pokies surrender day passes in Canberra

Fri, Feb 1, 12:01pm by Staff Writer

Time has run out for Canberra’s pokies venues to surrender their machines before the ACT government begins seizing them.

Clubs and hotels had until January 31 to exchange their poker machines for cash and other discounted before the governments regime of forced surrenders that aims to reduce the number of gaming machines in the city takes place.

A spokeswoman from the Justice and Community Safety Directorate told The Canberra Times that it would be “premature” to speculate on the progress of the voluntary handback until after February 8, the date by which contracts must be signed.

The Canberra Times is reported to have spoken to several clubs that have confirmed they have put in a proposal, but are unable to speak on the record until their submissions were approved.

In August 2018 it was first reported that clubs in Canberra will get cash or a discount for each poker machine they voluntarily surrender in a bid to reduce the number of gaming machines in the city to 4,000.

The Labor Party and the Greens agreed to cut the number of electronic gaming machine licenses by July 2020 as part of their power-sharing deal struck in 2016.

Clubs will be reimbursed for handing back pokies authorisations

Last year there were 4,981 licenses in circulation in the ACT with 4,498 machines in use.

A review by former Commonwealth departmental secretary Neville Stevens found the current trading scheme failed to cut the number of pokies in part due to the uncertainty in the industry and the casino development.

Mr Stevens found a number of clubs had been holding onto their authorisations because they might need them in future, or because their value may go up with the casino now able to buy licenses for 200 machines and 60 automated table games.

Under the plan, small to medium sized clubs would get $12,000 per authorisation they applied to surrender by January 31, 2019.

Smaller clubs could also be eligible for a discount of $25,000 per licenses on lease variation charges and planning fees, while larger clubs would get a $15,000 discount per authorisation.

In limiting the cash incentive to smaller clubs, Mr Stevens said the smaller venues in many cases lacked the cash reserves and land suitable for redevelopment available to the bigger clubs.

“Larger clubs have both more financial capacity and more expertise to undertake diversification through land redevelopment,” Mr Stevens wrote.

The five hotels in Canberra that have gaming machines would also get $6,000 in cash for each authorisation they surrendered, but would be ineligible for the planning discounts.

Hotels hold a total of 50 gaming machine authorisations in the state.

Clubs would be forced to surrender their machines in two lots – April 2019 and April 2020 – if the 4,000 cap was not reached. Hotels would not be forced to surrender their machines in that event.

Mr Stevens acknowledged that it was “not possible” to place an accurate value on a gaming machine authorisation, although the clubs sector had told him they’d gone for between $6,000 and $20,000 in the past.

The price of $12,000 “provides a balance between cost to government revenue, the value of an authorisation to a club and a sufficient amount that can make a different to the ongoing viability of a small to medium sized club,” he said.

The Liberal Party’s gaming spokesman has weighed in on the issue, with Mark Parton saying clubs were getting a “raw deal”.

“Many of them are in backs to the wall, survival mode, doing whatever they can to protect themselves and their members from a vindictive Green-Labor government,” Mr Parton said.

“Clubs that can afford legal advice have sought it. Those that do not have the resources to do so, namely small community clubs, have no choice but to accept the government terms,” Mr Parton said.

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