The ACT Government has launched the latest round of its $15,000 per poker machine surrender incentive as part of an ongoing campaign to reduce the number of machines. It has budgeted $1.74 million on the incentive in a bid to cut the number of EGM authorisations by up to 116, putting increasing pressure on clubs to diversify post-COVID.

The funding is financed by clubs that contribute $20 per month for the first 99 poker machine licences they hold, rising to $30 a month for each EGM above this number.

With a staggered surrender, the incentive payment is increased to $20,000 per authorisation until a venue becomes pokie-free. The current round will be available until the end of 2022, or until the fund is exhausted.

“Community clubs should be a safe place for families and vulnerable people to meet and connect, but the exposure and access to electronic gaming machines can cause harm in our community,” Minister for Gaming Shane Rattenbury, of the ACT Greens, said.

“Our community clubs play an important role in the social life of many Canberrans, so we want to continue supporting our clubs while reducing the harm from pokies, and I believe these surrender incentive payments can assist to achieve that.”

As part of a Labor-Greens power-sharing agreement, the ACT has committed to reducing the number of EGMs from just under 4000 to 3500 by July 2025. There are currently 3611 EGMs in operation across Canberra but 3863 authorisations. 

“There’s no doubt the pandemic has been an economic setback for the clubs, they’re in that hospitality space and we’ve seen the hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“So the clubs have done a great job across the pandemic, but it has had an impact on them and I think that is something we need the government to take into account as we think about these transition plans.”

Clubs can also apply for funding to use on projects that diversify revenue streams away from EGMs. The first tier round is for $25,000 while six community clubs have received almost $1 million as part of the second tier funding which will go towards facilities and infrastructure including solar installation, a childcare centre and air-conditioning.

Clubs to benefits include the Spanish Australian Club, Belconnen Soccer Club, Harmonie German Club, Canberra Highland and Burns Club, Gungahlin Lakes Golf and Community Club and Belconnen Magpies Sports Club.

Less than 10 per cent of the Spanish Australian Club’s revenue comes from its 14 machines and it does not meet the $25,000 per quarter threshold required to pay the ACT Government’s quarterly EGM tax. Since 2017, the Spanish Australian Club has diversified into a once-a-month Spanish deli, upgraded a dance floor to its theatre and built commercial kitchen facilities. In 2017, the Belconnen Magpies Club in Kippax closed its licensed gaming premises after 47 years and converted its site to a medical centre.

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