The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) approved a new legislation proposed by Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay last week that breaks the monopoly that clubs and bars had over pokie machines and has now permitted Canberra Casino to also dive into the pokie market. The term ‘pokie’ is Australian for ‘slot machines’ and they are very popular with Australian gamblers.
The Canberra Casino was opened in 1994 and did not have permission to have any pokie machines as gaming legislation only permitted local clubs and bars to have pokies. It provided them with a critical revenue stream that helped to keep these small businesses alive and helped contribute to the development of the local economy.
Acquis Gets Government Approval
When the Hong Kong based Acquis Group acquired the casino in 2014, they announced that they were willing to make a $14 million investment into the casino and would go ahead with a major overhaul provided the government was willing to amend its gaming rules and allow the Canberra Casino to host pokie machines. The proposal was met with strong resistance from the local clubs and bars who felt that the Canberra Casino would cannibalize the pokie market and put them out of business.
The government was open to discussion as the $14 million investment would do a lot for the local economy in the way of creating thousands of jobs, increasing tourism numbers and generating more revenue in the form of gaming taxes. Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced in 2015 that legislators would allow the Canberra Casino to host pokie machines and caused an uproar amongst local clubs and bars.
The new legislation that was approved allows Canberra Casino to operate 200 pokie machines and run 60 fully automated games. The government has tried to put in place legislation that will minimize the impact on clubs and bars by introducing a mandatory precommitment scheme – which is a first in Australia.
First Precommitment Scheme In Australia
The new precommitment scheme puts in place a number of restrictions that are applicable to the Canberra Casino but not to local clubs and bars. Some of those mandatory restrictions require gamblers visiting the casino to state upfront how much money they are willing to lose in a 24 hour period. Gamblers are allowed to bet a max of $10 on each spin at clubs and bars but will only be allowed a max of $5 on spins at the casino.
The productivity commission recommendation is $1 per spin and the opposition Greens wanted the current government to stick to that recommendation. Greens gaming representative Shane Rattenbury has stated that his party did not accept the max $5 per spin recommendation but would be open to spins above $1 but below $5.  The casino has also been mandated to buy its 100 pokie machines from the local clubs and bars to help them with their business. However the stipulation is more stringent for the casino as they are required to forfeit one out of the three pokie machines they purchase when compared to clubs and bars who forfeit one out of four pokie machines.
Since the new regulation allows Canberra Casino to operate 60 fully automated machines, the casino will have to buy a total of 390 machines to run their 200 pokies and 60 automated machines.
Anti Gambling Lobby Concerned
Anti-gambling activists are not happy with the decision as they believe allowing the Canberra Casino to have pokies will only increase problem gambling in the community. They are also upset with Chief Minister Andrew Barr who has changed his stance on some of the issues he has agreed to regarding the casino in the past. Barr had stated that the casino would only be allowed to operate its pokie machines once the redevelopment process was completed.
The new bill changes that stance as it says that the Canberra Casino can operate its pokie machines once it redevelopment process reaches a ‘prescribed stage’. The bill does not specify how that ‘prescribed stage’ will be measured nor does it specify what percentage of taxes the government intends to collect in the form of gaming taxes. The government is also expected to get the casino to pay a percentage of its revenue towards a problem gambling fund but that percentage is also yet to be defined.
 

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