Queanbeyan poker machines do a roaring trade

by William Brown Last Updated
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While poker machines were closed in the Australian Capital Territory, just across the border, trade was roaring.

The Canberra Times reports that profits from pokies in neighbouring Queanbeyan more than doubled each month after ACT clubs stayed closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, when compared to the year prior.

Following reports Canberrans rushed across the border to gamble when NSW venues opened on June 1, the 15 venues in the Queanbeyan-Palerang local government area took in $7,384,845 from gaming that month, up from $3,462,833 in June 2019.

While ACT gaming machines stayed switched off to comply with early stage-three restrictions in July, Queanbeyan’s gaming profit shot up more than 150 per cent on the same time last year.

The NSW gaming data revealed a more moderate increase of 84 per cent in August, with Canberra gaming venues switched back on in the second week of that month.

ClubsACT chief executive Gwyn Rees fought hard to bring Canberra in line with its border state, claiming clubs were losing about $5 million in revenue per week during restrictions.

“The ACT was the last jurisdiction to provide a COVID recovery roadmap, last to get relief out, slowest to reopen business and is the worst performing on business support,” Mr Rees said at the time.

With Canberra clubs reopened throughout September, gaming machine profit from Queanbeyan’s eight clubs and seven hotels dropped to $45,321,528, still up 27 per cent on last year.

Relationships Australia spokesperson Julie King said clients who engaged with the support service for counselling and financial advice during the coronavirus closures in Canberra had reported crossing to NSW during COVID-19.

Ms King said while having all gaming-machine venues closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus had been beneficial to problem gamblers who used machines, they had seen an increased uptake of online gambling.

“I think the biggest issue of what’s happened with COVID is not necessarily changing the behaviour of the gambler but it’s the potential impact that had on their families,” she said.

“If the gambler would not normally be gambling in the house the children would not normally be exposed to it, but given during the COVID time children were at home often they would observe their parents or their older sibling gambling, which increases the risk to children.”

Canberra residents crossing border to play pokies

Residents of Canberra who are prevented from playing pokie machines near their home due to COVID-19 restrictions are crossing into New South Wales to play.

The Canberra Times reported in August that up to 40 per cent of patrons of border town clubs in New South Wales are actually from the ACT.

Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said reports coming from pubs and clubs in Queanbeyan were that almost half of those signing in were from Canberra.

Mr Rees said NSW clubs were seeing an extraordinary turnaround in food and beverage trade, while ACT clubs remained closed to gamblers.

Queanbeyan Leagues Club general manager Jeremy Wyatt confirmed that since NSW had been given the green light to reopen on June 1, they had been busier than ever.

“Our trade has been up since reopening when compared to pre COVID-19 restrictions, we think largely due to the increase in patronage from the ACT,” Mr Wyatt said.

“Broadly speaking, we know we have had an increase in patronage from ACT residents as every person must register when they enter the club.

“The club has performed well since restrictions, even with all the extra work involved in cleaning, monitoring social distancing and other requirements that come with having a COVID-safe business.”

Clubs and pubs in NSW, the Northern Territory and South Australia all opened to gaming in June, with Victoria flagging a July 20 opening prior to its surge in coronavirus cases.

Following a written submission to chief health officer Kerryn Coleman, ACT Clubs had hoped to reboot poker machines with the planned transition to stage three restrictions on July 10.

Chief minister Andrew Barr’s July announcement that Canberra would take a more cautious approach than previously planned saw pokies, casinos, strip clubs and brothels banned from opening.

Mr Rees said clubs and gaming were now in operation in every other state and territory with the exception of Victoria.

“We have had a live trial of poker machines in Queanbeyan for two months – no COVID transmission, full stop,” he said.

“Clubs have offered to implement a range of measures to allay any concerns by the ACT CHO, but we have had no response and no explanation of why ACT residents are allowed to access gaming machines in Queanbeyan, which is effectively a suburb of Canberra, but not in our other suburbs.”

Relationships Australia chief executive Alison Brook said the service provider had received reports of Queanbeyan clubs doing a roaring trade, a consequence of an uncoordinated approach within NSW.

Ms Brooks said a more insidious concern was the largely unregulated online gambling industry.

“The problem with that is you haven’t got trained attendants observing what’s going on in the gaming room when you’re doing the same thing on a computer screen,” she said.

“That worries me potentially more than gamblers crossing the border.”

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