In Anti Liquor & Gaming by Clyde Mooney

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Hoteliers jumping through hoops have again become targets for mainstream media critical of anything relating to gambling or liquor that they don’t understand or like.

The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) in NSW has a long-established system of considering applications to increase the number of poker machines in pubs, known as the Local Impact Assessment (LIA).

The LIA process stipulates that an increase in the EGM threshold is to have “an overall positive impact” on the local community. It is stipulated that the “positive impact” can be in the form of funding for a community facility or service.

This requirement has been perversely misinterpreted to suggest hotels or clubs seeking to increase their poker machine numbers are actively seeking to thrust money upon charities in order to get approval – including entities associated with domestic issues for which the poker machines are seen to contribute.

Dan O’Hara

Prominent publican Dan O’Hara applied to ILGA to increase EGMs at the Fairfield Hotel from 23 to 30. As instructed, several community and charitable groups were approached to offer grants and projects, which the regulator could consider in the application.

Fairfax reported on the application by the O’Hara Group, charging into the rejection of an offer of $500k by Community First Step, which works with disadvantaged youth.

It was then suggested that four organisation that hadn’t refused donations were potentially cashing in, with White Ribbon Australia, advocates against domestic violence, subsequently withdrawing its agreement after being contacted by Fairfax.

Although $2.6 million is reported to have been offered to local institutions by the Group, those named are presented in a poor light as they were said to be “aware the donation” was dependent on the successful application. This includes a half-million-dollar pledge to Fairfield Hospital.

A 2009 study by the Productivity Commission was cited as evidence that “as much as 40 per cent” of gaming revenue comes from problem gamblers, for which venues are frequently portrayed to be at fault and a contributing cause.

Fairfield Council is critical of the LIA scheme, and not in favour of any more EGMs in the precinct. It is a high-density area for machines and holds some of the State’s most profitable Clubs and pubs.

Contacted by PubTIC, O’Hara was unable to comment on the ongoing application process.

Liquor & Gaming is currently reviewing the LIA system ahead of a report presentation to government, potentially leading to a new hoop of a different colour through which operators must jump and be pilloried.