Casino Canberra is poised to break the video poker machine (pokies) monopoly held by Australian Capital Territory (ACT) clubs.
On Thursday, ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay filed legislation that will allow Casino Canberra to add 200 pokies as well as 60 fully-automated table games. While the pokies number is less than the 500 machines the casino had originally requested, Ramsay’s move is highly controversial, given that pokies are considered the sole domain of local clubs.
Ramsay has attempted to mollify the clubs by imposing a mandatory pre-commitment scheme on the casino pokies while sparing the clubs the same restrictions. Casino pokies players will have to declare upfront how much money they’re prepared to lose over a 24-hour period. Casino pokies will also be subjected to a $5m-per-spin limit, half the rate allowed on the clubs’ pokies.
The casino will also face a more punitive pokies forfeiture rate. Clubs looking to add new pokies must buy them from other clubs, and must forfeit one of every four pokies purchased this way. The forfeiture is part of the ACT government’s plan to reduce the overall number of pokies from its current level of 5,000 to 4,000 by 2020.
Casino Canberra will be forced to forfeit one of every three pokies it purchases from clubs. The harsher forfeiture rule means the casino might have to pay up to A$4.5m for 300 machines to get their maximum allowable 200 pokies. Half of these machines must be purchased from hotels or smaller clubs that derive less than A$4m per year from their pokies operations.
Ramsay’s bill doesn’t specify whether the casino will pay the same tax rate that clubs pay on pokies revenue, or whether the casino will be subject to the same 0.75% pokies profit tax to fund responsible gambling programs.
Granting the casino 60 automated table game seats is equally controversial, since no other venue in the ACT is currently permitted to offer the machines. Anti-gambling critics believe the multi-terminals – which don’t require the services of a live casino croupier – will speed up game play and thus lead to more problem gambling behavior.
On Friday, Casino Canberra’s owner Aquis Entertainment issued a statement acknowledging the new pokies legislation, while noting that the bill has yet to be debated or passed, and therefore the company had no further comment to make.
Aquis’ financial report card for the six months ending June 30 showed revenue rising 19% to A$12.8m but expenses rose 18.3% to A$18m, resulting in a net loss of A$4.2m.
Aquis owner Tony Fung has had a trying time attempting to realize his goal of becoming Australia’s third-best casino operator. One year ago, the Asian casino market downturn (and local opposition) forced Aquis to abandon its plan to develop an $8b integrated resort near Cairns in the state of Queensland.