28 June 2022

Southern Cross Club latest to surrender poker machines for cash

| Lottie Twyford
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The Canberra Southern Cross Club in Woden is surrendering 10 of its poker machines in return for $15,000 each. Photo: File.

The Canberra Southern Cross Club in Woden is the latest club to take up the ACT Government’s recent surrender incentive and hand in its gaming machines.

For each of the 10 machines it plans to give back, the club will receive $15,000.

That money will be put towards revitalising and activating dining areas, particularly outdoors, at Woden, Tuggeranong and Jamison in time for summer.

Southern Cross Club CEO Ian Mackay said he was pleased the club was able to take up the government’s offer.

“If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that dining and entertainment spaces are crucial to a vibrant and healthy food and beverage business.”

Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury and Southern Cross Club CEO Ian Mackay

Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury and Southern Cross Club CEO Ian Mackay. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Local architects and town planners have been enlisted to assist the club pivot and use any outdoor space they can find to create an outdoor dining destination.

Work to refurbish the gaming floor has already begun and a full re-opening is scheduled for mid-August.

The move will leave Woden Southern Cross Club with 216 poker machines on the floor.

Pre-pandemic, that figure was 272.

“Through the pandemic, we removed other machines and we took advantage of the government’s previous initiatives,” Mr Mackay said.

“It’s a slow process but it’s a steady process – eight years ago we relied on gaming machines for 58 per cent of our revenue, that number is now down in the 30s.”

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The ACT Government has long made clear its ambitions to wean the territory’s clubs off poker machine revenue.

Its various schemes underway include a fund helping clubs invest in diverse revenue streams and an energy-efficiency upgrade fund.

The $17.4 million surrender incentive scheme was announced in March this year but at the time, ClubsACT CEO Craig Shannon expressed concern the $15,000 figure was not nearly high enough.

“That figure is in no way near the turnover from that machine, but they’re not even getting compensation for the original purchase price,” he told Region Media.

So far, that scheme has received applications to surrender machines from two licensees but a spokesperson for the ACT Government said “its working with several other interested clubs”.

Mr Mackay agreed it was “difficult” to ascertain and define the market rate to hand back a poker machine.

“But we think the government’s offer is reasonable,” he said.

“Regardless of the figure we had a desire to do it so we could get some cash and put it towards the outdoor areas we want to activate. So it’s serving its purpose in that regard.”

Along with the 10 machines being surrendered, another 20 will be placed in long-term storage. Mr Mackay said this decision was made because the club was uncertain about the market value for each machine.

The club is continuing to diversify by expanding its food and beverage offerings through home delivery and external event catering as well as health and wellness.

Significant upgrades are also underway at the Yacht Club and Snapper.

READ ALSO Why sensible ideas sometimes don’t see the light of day

In a recent discussion paper, the government floated capping bets at $5 and credit limits (how much money a player can put in a machine at one time) at $100.

These changes would be implemented following the installation of a central monitoring system and would theoretically reduce gambling harm by “slowing a person down”, according to Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury.

It’s estimated about 44,000 Canberrans are affected by gambling harm, either personal or second-hand, according to a 2019 survey. Nearly $2 billion was spent on poker machines in the financial year 2018-19 (pre-pandemic).

Mr Rattenbury in April said he accepted the clubs did not necessarily want such changes but was proposing extensive dialogue and consultation to “avoid the traditional barney between the government and the clubs”.

But the minister made clear it was now time for the government’s poker machine schemes to move beyond support initiatives.

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