Yowani Country Club’s decision to be a pokies-free venue shows the ACT Government is on a winner in its bid to reduce the harm done by gambling in Canberra, according to Gaming Minister Shane Rattenbury.
Mr Rattenbury visited the Lyneham club, which is embarking on a major redevelopment, to spruik the Government’s $1.74 million Gaming Machine Authorisation Surrender Incentive. The scheme is encouraging clubs to give up their reliance on the pokies by offering a bonus payment of $5000 per licence.
Mr Rattenbury said Yowani was a great example of how a club could diversify and switch to new revenue streams but remain relevant to the community and become an important social hub.
”The Yowani Country Club has gone full step and they’re actually going pokie-free,” he said.
“It’s an exciting development. The ACT Government provided funding for people to retire their poker machine licences and Yowani has retired all of theirs.
“They got a financial bonus for going completely pokie free, and they’ve got an exciting new development for their clubhouse. We’re really pleased to see them stepping into a different pathway for the future.”
Mr Rattenbury said that in the past four years, the surrender initiative had cut the number of gaming machines by 23 per cent or 1153 machines, including Yowani’s 21.
There were still 3793 electronic gaming machine authorisations in the ACT but the Government was aiming to reduce this to 3500 by 1 July, 2025.
“We’ll continue to work with the clubs to make sure that they continue to think about diversification,” Mr Rattenbury said.
He said clubs were taking different approaches to achieve this but some such as Yowani and the Hellenic Club in Woden were developing their land, or, like Vikings, investing in property.
“The Yowani redevelopment is going to be a great one for this area that’ll provide an excellent new venue for people living nearby,” Mr Rattenbury said.
He said the Canberra Yacht Club had also gone pokies-free and remained a popular venue, with patrons appreciating the absence of gaming machines.
“I think what we see is people looking for different choices,” Mr Rattenbury said. “Many clubs around town are very different to what people might have expected in the club 20 or 30 years ago.
”Many of the clubs are seeking to be family venues and I think the absence of poker machines is really attractive to some of the patrons.
“Many parents do want to take their kids to a club where there’s also poker machines. Giving customers a choice of the type of venue they go to, I think, is a very positive development.”
The Government was also putting in place other harm-minimisation measures, including bid limits and load-up limits on machines, as well as cashless gaming such as what was being proposed in NSW.
Yowani Country Club chair John McCullagh said it had been a membership decision to do away with poker machines but the club had to find other revenue sources after years of losses, deciding on developing part of its land for housing and offices and building a new $6 million clubhouse on a fresh site.
“It’s going to be a clubhouse with cutting edge, if you like,” Mr McCullagh said. “Facilities that enable us to actually focus on new sources of income.
“The members really believe that they should have a club that they could enjoy with quiet concentration.
“So it’s an exciting challenge and it’s an exciting development, and we’re fortunate to have an extremely excellent board to work with to bring this thing home for the club because it really is life-changing for the club and will set us up in perpetuity as we go forward.”
Development applications have been lodged for the clubhouse and a five-storey office building but an estate development plan also shows hundreds of apartments and townhouses set in a green precinct with a central park.
Tony Pan’s TP Dynamics will develop the land in stages over the coming years.