Poker rate

Northern Territories government minister accused of ‘relinquishing responsibility’ over outback town’s poker machine scheme

The Northern Territory’s gaming minister has been accused of ‘sitting on the fence’ over a plan to roll out dozens of new poker machines in the central Australian town of Alice Springs.

Hospitality giant Iris Capital has apps for 60 new slot machines to be installed in pubs and hotels across the outback city, including several venues where there were none before.

The slots would add to more than 100 new gaming machines the company has installed at Lasseters Casino since taking over management of the Alice Springs site last year.

The latest decision has sparked a backlash in the township from community members who say if the company is successful with its bid, it will disproportionately affect some of the area’s most vulnerable residents.

Attorney General Chansey Paech, the only minister in Alice Springs’ Northern Territory government, would not respond directly if he had any concerns about the pokies plan.

Northern Territory Games Minister Chansey Paech is facing questions over the installation of more poker machines in Alice Springs.(ABC News: Matt Garrick)

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on this given that the application may be appealed,” Mr Paech said.

“I don’t want to be seen as influencing the decision in any way.

“I would, however, encourage people in Central Australia to make sure they go online [to the application process] and have their say.”

Mr Paech said the decision on whether or not to approve Iris’ applications rests with the territory’s director of gaming machines, who the government says operates at arm’s length from the cabinet.

It comes as the Government of the Northern Territories released a number of changes to its responsible gambling code of practice on Monday, including better signage and markings in gambling areas.

He publicly released the changes on the same day as one of Iris Capital’s applications closed for submissions.

Township of Alice Springs seen from Anzac Hill.
Opponents say increased gambling will be problematic for Alice Springs.(ABC News: Bridget Judd)

Pokies a “hot potato” policy

Independent Alice Springs politician Robyn Lambley accused Mr Paech of ‘sitting on the fence’ over the pokies plan.

“It’s the Minister, he’s the responsibility, and all decisions that are made regarding poker machines are ultimately his responsibility,” she said.

“Poker machines have always been a political issue, a hot potato.

“Chansey doesn’t want to engage anyway – obviously there probably aren’t many votes for him to come out and say he supports slots, and vice versa.

“I just can’t buy that he abrogated his responsibility as minister here.”

A picture of NT politician Robyn Lambley leaning against an NT Parliament column and looking away.
Robyn Lambley says the gaming minister is “sitting on the fence” on the slots front.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

“People can sit at home and bet online”

Ms Lambley said she believed the new poker machines would worsen difficult social issues the township already faced, including high rates of poverty, alcohol abuse and violence.

The leading NT hospitality industry body renewed its support for Iris apps on Monday.

“There are a lot of gambling problems in unregulated community card houses, on the streets, in public parks,” said Alex Bruce, managing director of Hospitality NT.

“People can sit at home and bet online and lose their house – we never see the focus on that, it’s always on the pub with the light on.”

In NT, individual sites have caps on the number of slot machines they are allowed to install, however, no such cap exists at the two NT licensed casinos – Lasseters and Mindil Beach Casino at Darwin.

Iris Capital has been approached for comment.