Lockout laws: Sydney pokie venues gain exemptions

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pokies exemption: some city venues are offering all-night gambling. Photo: Virginia StarEditorial: Lockout laws effective against alcohol abuse and violence

Sydney drinkers are locked out of city bars from 1.30am, but can gamble through the night, after the NSW government began quietly granting exemptions to the lockout laws for poker machine venues.

City Tattersalls, described as Sydney’s “second casino” with more than 400 poker machines, has won an exemption to the lockout to allow gambling customers to come and go after 1.30am through a special door on Pitt Street.

Alcohol-fuelled violence in the city has decreased by 40 per cent since lockout laws were implemented, according to figures released last week.

The Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing said seven lockout exemptions have been recently granted, but all involve a ban on alcohol sales after 1.30am in the exempted areas.

Other exempted venues include Cheers Bar and Grill and Charlie Chans, both on George Street, Scruffy Murphys and the Radisson Hotel.

Many of the venues sought exemptions in a bid to resurrect poker-machine profits, which plummeted after the lockouts were imposed last year.

City Tattersalls chief executive Tony Guilfoyle​ said it was the only registered club in NSW to be covered by the CBD lockout, which was hurting “socially and financially”.

“Our food and beverage revenue is higher in the day and tapers off in the later evening. From 1.30am, a higher percentage of revenue is from gaming,” Mr Guilfoyle said.

He said the lockout exemption for the 196 bar, which is isolated from the rest of City Tattersalls between 1.30am and 3am, was granted in February and hadn’t been advertised to the general public, although there was a sign above the door.

A spokeswoman for Cheers said the venue had 30 poker machines, and this was the motivation for seeking for an exemption, granted by OLGR in February, and applying from Sunday to Thursday.

Night workers can come in for coffee, toasted sandwiches, or watch a game of football. But she said few came in. “No-one is walking around at 1am to 2am in the city,” she said.

An insider at another bar said the venue had decided to keep the poker machines open and serve soft drinks in the hope the lockout laws would eventually be dropped. “We are doing it for the reputation. If you don’t stay open, people won’t remember. But only one or two people are coming in,” he said.

Mr Guilfoyle said: “General visitation within the CBD is well down. It appears people have changed their habits and are now visiting venues outside the CBD lockout zone, where these restrictions do not apply.”

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research released data last week showed a dramatic 40 per cent fall in alcohol-fuelled violence in the city since the lockout started in February 2014.

A spokesman for OLGR said: “The lockout laws are working to reduce alcohol-related crime and these exemptions are only being allowed on the basis they will not do anything to undermine this outcome.”

Greens upper house MP John Kaye said: “Yet again, the poker machine lobby gets its way. One would hope the Reverend [Fred] Nile, with his new political power, would be onto the problems caused by extended gambling in the city.”

The World Casino Directory website says City Tattersalls is the second-largest casino in Sydney, after Star, which is outside the lockout zone.

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