3 August 2023

Griffith pubs in Supreme Court battle over increasing poker machine entitlement

| Oliver Jacques
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The Area Hotel exterior

The Area Hotel won its Supreme Court hearing but the regulator has appealed. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A court battle over increasing the poker machine entitlements of Griffith’s Area Hotel will continue in August 2023, after the state regulator appealed a NSW Supreme Court ruling made in the Griffith pub’s favour on 5 June 2023.

According to the published Supreme Court decision, the Area Hotel applied to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) to increase its poker machine threshold from 23 to 30 and to lease seven poker machine entitlements from the nearby Griffith Hotel in April 2021.

The ILGA approved their application on the condition that a dedicated staff member at the Area Hotel monitor the gaming machines whenever they operate.

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The Area Hotel objected to having this condition imposed on them, so took the matter to the Supreme Court, in which a hearing took place on 16 November 2022.

The Griffith pub told the court it believed the ILGA exceeded its power in imposing this condition on them, because the authority used its powers under a provision of the Liquor Act, which the Area Hotel said does not relate to gaming. The Area Hotel also argued that in this matter, “questions of the possible or likely impacts on the local community are irrelevant”.

The ILGA contested this by arguing “there is nothing in the context or purpose of the Liquor Act to suggest that a condition imposed on a liquor licence cannot regulate the use of gaming machines on premises at which liquor is sold”.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Area Hotel, as it did in similar cases in which two other establishments also owned by publican Jim Knox tried to increase their poker machine entitlements – Griffith’s Gemini Hotel and Armidale’s Whitebull Hotel.

The ILGA quickly applied to appeal the decision, with the appeal hearing set to be heard on 16 August 2023.

The ongoing court battle has quietly taken place in the background of an intense political fight over poker machines, with Riverina-based MPs Joe McGirr and Helen Dalton pressuring the NSW Government to pursue reforms aimed at minimising harm caused by problem gambling.


Poker machines are a hot political issue. Photo: File.

The latest available data from ILGA shows all clubs in the Griffith Local Government Area already have a combined 376 poker machines and made $12,366,855 net profit from them in the six-month period between 1 June 2022 and 30 November 2022.

On top of that, hotels in Griffith, Leeton and Murrumbidgee made a combined $9,232,731 net profit from 129 additional poker machines in the six-month period between 1 July 2022 and 31 December 2022 [The ILGA told Region it cannot provide data on hotels for Griffith alone as individual venues may be identified].

Over the same six-month periods, clubs in Wagga and the Snowy Valleys combined made $13,375,754 net profit from pokies while hotels in Wagga, Junee, Lockhart, Temora and Narrandera made a combined $20,177,487 net profit.

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These numbers have concerned prominent Riverina residents.

Col Beaton, president of the Griffith branch of the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW Inc, said his organisation opposed the Gemini Hotel’s attempt to increase its number of poker machines when community consultation on the matter was sought in 2021.

“The overwhelming consensus from our membership is that there is already too many poker machines in Griffith,” he wrote in his submission.

Pat Cox, who works on a number of committees supporting vulnerable community members, agreed.

“It’s appalling. We have far too many poker machines already. Families who are spending money that way may not be spending it where it’s needed.”

The ILGA has suspended consideration of all applications to lease or transfer poker machine entitlements until the court of appeal makes its final decision on the Area Hotel/Gemini/Whitebull matter.

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