ClubsACT expressed their disappointment over the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government’s decision to award 200 pokie licenses to the Canberra casino which was purchased in 2015 by Hong Kong based firm Acquis Entertainment, and is owned by billionaire Tony Fung.
There are currently around 5,000 pokie machines in Canberra that are operated by the local bars, clubs and restaurants. These smaller establishments have profited from running these pokie machines but are now under threat as they feel that the Canberra casino will eat into their pokie machine revenue and could very well put them out of business.
Acquis Entertainment had sent in a proposal where it committed to investing up to A$330 million to give the Canberra casino a makeover and in return asked the government to award it 500 pokie licenses. The government had taken its own time to discuss the proposal but last week ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr confirmed that his government decided that 500 pokies were far too many and hence approved only 200.
Barr also highlighted the fact that the government was not willing to add to the 5,000 pokie machines that already operated in Canberra due to the concerns over problem gambling and hence instructed Acquis to purchase these 200 pokies directly from the clubs and bars. This move to reduce the number of pokie machines was an attempt by the government to satisfy both parties and keep them happy but it hasn’t gone down well with ClubsACT.
In a statement, Gwyn Rees, chief executive of ClubsACT said “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.”
While Acquis did not get the 500 pokie licenses that it had requested, the company is nevertheless happy that at least 200 pokie licenses were approved as it would give the Canberra casino a chance to compete with other cities in Australia. Acquis will face a tough challenge in purchasing these 200 machines from the clubs as based on the current pokies trading scheme, Acquis will have to purchase a total of 267 pokies as one out of every four pokie machines must be forfeited under the scheme.
The pokie machines were earlier sold for around A$18,000 per machine but the clubs who decide to sell are expected to double the rate when dealing with the casino. Rees stated that the Canberra casino will go hard after the local market in order to make up the money spent and turn a profit. According to Rees, this move will hurt the community as it will take money out of the local market and place it directly into the hands of a foreign owner.