25 February 2022

$1 million 'payout' helps Canberra clubs move away from poker machine dependency

| Lottie Twyford
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Shane Rattenbury and Chris lander

Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury with Spanish Australian Club treasurer Chris Lander. Mr Lander says the club will upgrade its kitchen thanks to a grant devised to move away from poker machine revenue. Photo: ACT Government.

Six community clubs in the ACT will share in almost $1 million in funding to help diversify their revenue streams and source income from places other than poker or gaming machines.

The $943,000 boost will go towards initiatives such as installing solar power, upgrading bar and lounge facilities, renovating kitchens, improving accessibility, even site preparation for the development of a childcare centre.

One successful grant recipient – the Spanish Australian Club in Narrabundah – will use its share to renovate and upgrade its existing kitchen into a modern commercial space so it can offer food services.

Club treasurer Chris Lander said the current ageing kitchen had been an obvious choice to upgrade because it no longer complied with current regulations.

He said diversifying the club’s revenue streams could help build a more stable income down the track. But he wasn’t sure if the club could be totally viable without poker machines – not in the near future anyway.

He described poker machines as an “integral” part of the club’s entertainment.

“Some don’t like that term ‘entertainment’, but in 2018 I surveyed several active players and their response was ‘if you remove them, we’ll go the big clubs in Woden’,” Mr Lander said.

However, he has since noticed the club’s poker machine revenue is a diminishing form of income as the games become less popular with younger club-goers – a change he partly attributes to the increase in online gambling options.

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Mr Lander said these changes had motivated the club to move away from poker machines into different streams.

“We opened a delicatessen in the club which operates once a month and we’re bringing in a movie theatre type space. We’re also looking at sports activities including a gravel bowls game,” he said.

Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury said the government had a clear agenda to minimise the reliance on poker machines, while ensuring the long-term survival of community clubs.

Spanish Australian Club treasurer Chris Lander pictured with Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury outside the club

Spanish Australian Club treasurer Chris Lander explains his plans to Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury. Photo: ACT Government.

“We’ve seen clubs over the years become heavily reliant on this form of revenue,” Mr Rattenbury said.

He acknowledged it wouldn’t be a quick turnaround to move away from a dependency that had developed over a number of decades, and each club’s journey would be different.

Some clubs in the ACT rely on gaming machines for 30 per cent of their income, others receive more than 60 per cent.

Mr Rattenbury said larger clubs had been better able to diversify from gaming machines by divesting into real estate or health groups, but this had proven more difficult for smaller ventures.

“I’m very encouraged by the fact clubs are now actively discussing the need to both reduce the harm from poker machines and think about how to diversify their revenue,” he said.

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The club grants form part of the ACT Government’s Diversification and Sustainability Support Fund.

The ACT Government matches contributions made by club gaming machine incomes to create the fund.

The Labor-Greens governing agreement holds the government to a commitment to reduce the number of poker machines to 3500 by 1 July, 2025.

Mr Rattenbury said significant progress had already been made with the number of machines in the Territory down to 3800 from more than 5000 in 2016.

“We are within reach of that goal but we will need deliberate policy measures in the next couple of years to reduce those further 300 licences.”

He said there was the potential to go beyond this target and was keen to see some clubs explore the idea of going completely poker-machine free to provide a “choice of venues for Canberrans”.

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