Casino loses out as pokies raise stakes - Monday 28th of November 2005

As Canberrans increased their expenditure on gambling by more than 50 per cent in 10 years, Casino Canberra was the big loser of market share.

In the heady days of its establishment in 1992, when there was no other casino between Tasmania and Queensland, Casino Canberra attracted the bulk of its business from Sydney with a good number of players from Melbourne. But since its peak in 1994-95, the casinos share of total gambling revenue in the ACT has plummeted from more than 22 per cent to less than 8 per cent. Over the same 10-year period, revenue from ACT poker machines increased steadily from 60 per cent of the total gambling revenue to more than 75 per cent. These figures were collated by the ANU Centre for Gambling Research.

Casino Canberra marketing manager Peter Cursley said the business had failed to turn a profit since opening in temporary premises in the ballroom of the National Convention Centre. Since then, the casino had lost $10 million but paid $83 million to the ACT Government in taxes and charges.

Mr Cursley said at least now the attraction was breaking even, considerably better than when it had lost $5million in a year. Its premises now, behind the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Binara Street, Civic, however, compounded the casinos woes. "But we cant afford to do anything about this." He said nearly half of Casino Canberras gambling revenue was lost overnight with the opening of Star City Casino in Sydney. Then, in September 2001, with the terrorist attack in the US and the collapse of Ansett Airlines, takings again fell dramatically.

The casino is owned by Casinos Austria. "We are very, very lucky, having such a large organisation behind us," Mr Cursley said.

Canberra Casino has a guaranteed monopoly in the ACT until 2014 and a 99-year lease on its licence. However, the refusal of successive governments to allow the casino to run poker machines was impacting heavily on the business.

"It is the only casino in Australia and probably the world which does not have poker machines," Mr Cursley said.

For some people, gambling without poker machines at a casino would seem complicated.

Also, up to six staff were needed to manage most casino games.

The casino employed 320 people, half the number it had when it had been opening 24 hours a day.

The ACT Government restricts poker machines to non-profit clubs, citing their contribution to the community.

But despite the dominant position of poker machines in the ACT gambling industry, Clubs ACT is concerned at the impact of smoking bans from December 1, 2006, and tax increases from July, 2007.

Clubs ACT chief executive officer Bob Samarcq predicts some clubs will go to the wall.

Treasurer Ted Quinlan counters that ACT poker machines taxes are among the lowest in Australia, and that clubs have closed previously and there will be future closures.

The ability of poker machines to capture the gambling dollars is illustrated with the Canberra Racing Club having installed 14 of them.

Club chief executive Damien Foley said there was no doubt the increase in competition in Canberra in recent years for the entertainment dollar had had a significant effect on the wagering revenues of the racing industry.

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