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Sun, Nov 08 2015 - 09:55 PM

Pokies review put on back burner under Coalition government

Reform of the state's poker machines regime, which could have resulted in licences for pokies being extended beyond 10 years, was quietly put on the back burner by the former Coalition government ahead of last year's election.

In June last year, the Napthine government announced it would examine extending the term of poker machine entitlements held by the state's pubs and clubs by up to 25 years in response to complaints from the industry that the 10-year entitlement, set to expire in 2022, was tough on business.

An issues paper was released which proposed a range of possible extension options, including 20 to 25 years. A two-week consultation period was set up and the review was to report back by September.

The government said in June it expected to implement any policy changes by the end of 2014.

It is understood that report was finalised but never released. New Gaming Minister Jane Garrett has requested a copy of the report from Treasury.

The review raised several significant challenges and required further consultation.

The industry, particularly the Returned and Services League, community clubs and the Australian Hotels Association, began agitating for changes in August 2013, writing to the premier. In response, a round table was set up.

Industry members say a 10-year entitlement does not provide venues with enough economic certainty and makes it hard for businesses to secure long-term finance for capital projects that go beyond 10 years.

It is understood some of the challenges the review uncovered were that the venues most in need of certainty also had the least capacity to pay. There were also issues over working out a fair mechanism for valuing entitlements to avoid underselling licences, like the previous Labor government did.

Some sectors of the industry, including the Clubs Managers Association, pushed for licences to be granted in perpetuity.

Then treasurer Michael O'Brien said there were significant barriers to such a move.

Granting perpetual licences would have brought Victoria into line with other states.

Campaigners for gambling reform were opposed to perpetual licences and were critical of the industry-requested review.

Extending the licences has the backing of non-profit clubs, which find the 10-year system close to unworkable as it provides no long-term certainty.

Community Clubs Victoria president Leon Wiegard said members were very disappointed by the lack of action from the last government.

"It's an impossible position for clubs. They simply can't borrow," Mr Wiegard said.

"They [the Coalition] made noises about this but they didn't come back. So we are disappointed that recognition wasn't made."

He said the industry would continue to campaign for longer entitlements.

During last year's election, clubs campaigned in five marginal seats about issues affecting their industry. The clubs also waged a campaign against the Napthine government over tax increases for poker machine venues.

Ms Garrett said any changes to the system would require extensive consultation.


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