THE continued closure of pokies has delivered a major blow to Coast venues as a debate sparks on whether gaming should reopen in the region.
State Government data has revealed more than $4.2 million in venue revenue was lost on the Coast in March compared to the previous month due to coronavirus restrictions.
Sunshine Coast Hotels’ Scott Armstrong said customers of the Brightwater Hotel and Baringa, Parklands, Bellvista taverns were disappointed to find the gaming area closed last week.
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“People are looking for the whole offering in hotels, so from what we’ve seen in the first week we’ve been open, people can’t really understand why you can come into the venue but you’re not allowed to go in there,” he said.
“It’s really been a bit frustrating for a lot of our customers that are happy to play by the rules, but when you’re restricting access to certain areas of the hotel it makes it very difficult.”
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New South Wales became the first state at the beginning of the month to allow pokies to run, with 1.5m required between each patron.
Mr Armstrong said he didn’t understand why social distancing rules and hygiene practices couldn’t apply to his venues’ gaming rooms.
“There’s no reason why that area is different to any part of our hotel,” he said.
“We don’t really understand why they’ve taken a different attitude to gaming than they have to other parts of our business.
“When we do come back, we’re happy to have a staff member in there sanitising after every play, making sure people are distancing themselves from each other, all of those different measures.
“I’m sure every person in the industry’s prepared to put a bit more labour into those areas to make sure that happens.”
Complementary to the venues’ other offerings, Mr Armstrong said revenue generated from gaming was a vital part of the business.
“It’s an important contributor to our profitability,” he said.
“From a labour point of view, to offer really good quality food and those sorts of things, there’s high labour content there. You’ve got someone who’s having to prepare the food, someone washing up, someone serving it.
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“Whereas obviously in gaming, it’s a lot less labour intensive, so as a result you haven’t got the labour costs that other departments in the premises has.”
Clubs Queensland acting CEO Dan Nipperess said the health of members on the Coast was the first priority as experts say high-touch and high-density activities should be among the last to reopen.
“Clubs Queensland accepts that there are still steps to be taken before our members can return to full service and we will continue to engage with the State Government to ensure that these steps are taken in a safe and responsible way,” he said.
“At all times during this period, we have ensured that Queenslanders who go into their community clubs are provided the safest environments possible.”
An Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation spokeswoman said the State Government was providing relief to liquor and gaming licensees affected by coronavirus restrictions.
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“Support includes waiving of 2020-21 liquor licensing renewal fees for current licensees as at 30 June 2020, payroll tax relief, funds for retraining and job-matching, energy rebates, and rent relief for holders of leases, licences and permits on state land,” she said.
“In April, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath also announced a three-month deferral on gaming machine taxes, worth around $50M.
“The Commissioner for Liquor and Gaming is examining options to allow for flexibility in how the gaming machine tax is to be repaid, including instalment plans.”
Mr Armstrong said he hoped the next stage of restrictions allowing gaming to reopen was brought forward.
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