State election 2018: proposed gaming laws cause angst

Williamstown's Old Bakehouse Tavern owner Dave Piper says newly proposed gaming laws will spell the end of SA's small pubs and clubs.
Williamstown's Old Bakehouse Tavern owner Dave Piper says newly proposed gaming laws will spell the end of SA's small pubs and clubs.

Licensed pubs and clubs could be hit hard under newly proposed gaming laws, which include $1 maximum bets.

Managers and owners were made fully aware of the laws – backed by SA Best and The Greens ahead of the state’s election – during a recent Australian Hotels Association meeting. 

SA Best will push for several key changes while The Greens plan to phase out pokies all together – although their policy allows machines to remain in casinos.

Williamstown’s Old Bakehouse Tavern, with its 11 gaming machines, would not survive the change, according to its manager.

Dave Piper, who has run the establishment for the past 23 years, said Xenophon was like a “dog with a bone and will not rest”.

Mr Piper said the SA Best leader did not fully understand what the changes would mean to pubs and clubs across SA.

“He’ll send us small pubs broke,” he said.

Mr Piper remembers a time when the SA government offered considerable amounts for gaming machine sites, upwards of $35,000, following a call to “get rid” of the amount of pokies in some big venues from 40 to 32.

He was doubtful the returned revenue of each site would reach past $14,000.

But Mr Piper has more concerns about the maximum $1 bet.

“If he (Xenophon) gets his own way, we won’t be able to use the majority of the machines – they can’t be reconfigured so we will be at a loss,” he said.

“I am caught between a rock and a hard place.”

For Eden Valley Hotel, the plans would not directly affect the town’s only watering hole which had six gaming machines and its new managers don’t believe the removal of machines “will ever happen”.

Cassaly and Michael Fitzgerald, who take over the hotel’s lease in April, believed it was “narrow-minded” to base business revenue targets on the presence of pokie machines.

However Mrs Fitzgerald did say if you were “lucky enough” to have 40 machines in your hotel then “you would be silly to ignore the proposed laws”.

Mrs Fitzgerald, whose parents have run the pub for many years, said the couple was keen to continue a focus on the delivery of “value adding” experiences for their customers.

“We are all about basing our marketing model on good food and hospitality, the community and good service,” she said.

“If you are focusing your business model just on pokies then it’s a bit short-sighted in regional areas in all forms of hospitality.

“With our six pokies, it’s almost a bonus to have anything come from them.”

Meanwhile, Nuriootpa’s Vine Inn manager Chris Linden shared a much broader view of the proposed policies, referring to it as “Armageddon for pubs”.

“What Mr Xenophon’s new policy will give is a free shot to the casinos and a free shot to online gambling, both legal and illegal,” he said. 

Mr Linden said the Vine Inn’s success came from its diverse model which offered accommodation, retail and a larger food venue.

He conceded that should the policies come into effect, it would “damage” their business – “but not anywhere significant to a lot of the other business around here – they will not survive”.

One of his main concerns as a hotelier remained with SA Best candidate Paul Brown, who wanted to create up to 14,000 new jobs in tourism.

Mr Linden said these proposed changes would mean the loss of many jobs.

“So this comes from a man, in Adelaide, running for Schubert; where’s your commitment?”.

Another concern included the sale of hotels.

“If this policy comes in to play what will happen is no one will sell any hotels... you can see the valuation of hotels decline by 35 to 40 per cent,” he said.

In response to problem gamblers, Mr Linden highlighted claims that 675 people in this state constituted problem gamblers.

“Yes, we feel for those people, but when you come into our venue we know the problem gamblers – we don’t encourage people to stay,” he said. 

Mr Linden, who said special training was in place to assist staff to support any problem gambler, added he held graver concerns for the ice epidemic, which he said was now prevalent in the region.

SA Best’s proposal includes:

  • Five-year plan to cut poker machines numbers in South Australia from 12,100 to 8,100
  • Reduction in maximum bets to A$1, from the current $5
  • Reduction in maximum prizes from $10,000 to $500
  • removing particularly addictive features such as “losses disguised as wins”
  • Prohibition of political donations from gambling businesses
  • The removal of EFTPOS facilities from gambling venues.

According to the 2015 National Clubs Census, in SA, community clubs annually provide:

  • 19,800 jobs
  • $918 million annually in social contribution
  • $792 million in subsidised access to sporting, recreational and social facilities
  • $116 million in volunteer effort
  • $10 million in donations.