Clubs diversify as fresh challenge arises

IN tough economic times, a dabble on the pokies at the local club may be just the thing for fragile and frayed nerves.

But clubs and pubs won't be able to rely on that old, reliable form of income in future as the New South Wales Government moves to impose new limits on gaming machine numbers.

New South Wales Gaming Minister Kevin Greene announced last week that new legislation would be introduced to protect problem gamblers.

Clubs will now have to re-invent themselves if they hope to survive.

Evans Head Bowling Club has taken the bull by the horns and will go to Richmond Valley Council with plans to double the size of its building, with a move away from gaming.

The $2 million investment will include a gymnasium, children's room, multi-purpose hall and enlarged restaurant, serving Australian fare as well as its popular Chinese cuisine.

“We have to diversify our income stream,” said club CEO Roger Hong.

“We can no longer be reliant on the gaming dollar.”

Aside from the planned reduction in poker machines, clubs have also been hit with increased taxes, new liquor legislation and anti-smoking laws.

“Our backs are up against the wall when it comes to making a dollar and providing for the community, and we are a community-based organisation,” Mr Hong said.

As an example, the bowling club - along with the Woodburn-Evans Head RSL and Casino RSM clubs - must donate 1.5 per cent of poker machine profits above $1 million.

Last year the three clubs donated $55,000 back to the community, but were only required to provide $30,000.

Other clubs are also looking to diversify, with Ballina RSL Club considering investing in accommodation.

General manager Bill Coulter said that the club's master plan identified conferencing and tourism markets as sound alternatives.

He said that the past 12 months were difficult, because of anti-smoking laws and increased taxes on gaming.

“It has been a challenging time, but you have to adapt the business around those challenges,” Mr Coulter said.

Pokie reforms

Key changes include:

  • Dropping by 5000 the statewide cap on poker machines, with plans for ongoing reductions.
  • Fines of up to $11,000 for venues allowing credit card cash withdrawals from ATM and EFTPOS facilities in gaming venues.
  • Restrict poker machine numbers in high density areas.

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