POLL: Pokie changes 'will hurt community'

Bosses at Illawarra clubs say they will be forced to cut back community-focused spending to convert gaming machines to meet the government's voluntary pre-commitment deadline.

Under new legislation, large clubs will have until January 2016 to replace their entire fleet of machines. They are normally replaced or converted in smaller batches and less frequently, spreading the cost.

Clubs with fewer than 20 machines will be given longer.

Wests Illawarra Leagues Club CEO Luke Walker estimates it will cost about $8 million to replace the venue's 267 machines with pre-commitment-enabled versions - about double the amount usually devoted to machine upgrades over a three-year period.

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"We've only just returned to profitability after four years, and to find $8 million is going to be very difficult. Quite rightly banks are reluctant to lend to clubs in the present climate," he said.

He cited increased poker machine taxes, the costs associated with smoke-free venues, new gaming legislation and cost pressures facing business generally.

"We will look [to find savings] in discretionary spending - things that run at a loss like bingo, raffles, repricing the food and beverages," Mr Walker said.

Funding to sporting bodies and youth achievement awards would also be under review, he said.

Clubs Australia supports voluntary pre-commitment technology after successfully quashing the government's original reforms, which included mandatory pre-commitment.

The Shellharbour Club chief executive David Whyte said the cost of replacing the venue's 229 machines - normally replaced or converted more cheaply every four years - would likely set back the club's plans to develop a fitness centre and child-minding area. These are aimed at reducing the club's reliance on gaming revenue in the longer term.

A machine costs $25,000-$30,000 to replace or $6000-$8000 to convert so it can run a different game.

Unlike many in the clubs fraternity, Mr Whyte is openly sceptical about the benefits of voluntary pre-commitment technology.

"Seriously, I don't think it's going to achieve what they're setting out to do because a problem gambler will set their limits high or won't set their limits at all," he said.

Pubs and clubs with fewer than 10 machines will be permitted to introduce changes as part of their normal replacement cycle. Venues with 11-20 machines will have until 2020.

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