Pubs and clubs seek more tax breaks as they prepare to switch on the pokies

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Pubs and clubs are seeking further tax breaks from the NSW government on millions of dollars of gaming revenue as they prepare to reopen poker machines next week, arguing it is vital to their recovery after months of pain.

Pokies can be switched back on from June 1, but punters will have to adhere to social distancing measures, with machines likely to be separated or every second machine switched off.

Gaming lounges can reopen from June 1. Meals are not required but operators will need to enforce physical distancing.

Gaming lounges can reopen from June 1. Meals are not required but operators will need to enforce physical distancing.Credit:Peter Braig

The state government has already deferred poker machine taxes from previous quarters, which were were due in March and June, until September 1. It is now in discussions with ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association about further leniency.

AHA NSW director John Green said it would "take some time" before revenue returned to normal and any deferred tax bills "are likely to cause financial hardship in the months to come". He suggested the taxes could be waived entirely.

"Any deferrals should be closely looked at ... If there is further hardship I think [the taxes] should be deferred or waived," Mr Green said.

For some hotels it was a matter of survival and "it may be that some venues survive the coronavirus shutdown only to be done in once we get back to normal trade," he said.

ClubsNSW chief executive Josh Landis said there had been "constructive discussions" about gaming taxation with the government.

"The question of gaming tax deferrals remains a concern for our members, given the enormous loss of revenue clubs have experienced in recent months," he told The Sun-Herald.

"Those discussions will continue, but for now, our primary focus will be on getting the industry ready to welcome back their customers from June 1."

A NSW government spokesman said the six-month deferral granted on March 27 was "conditional on these funds being used to retain staff" and "the Government is continuing to work closely with the hotel and club industries on how to safely reopen for business across the sector".

ClubsNSW will soon issue guidelines to its clubs about how to reopen safely. "Social distancing ambassadors" will patrol venues, restaurants, cafes and gaming lounges will be reconfigured and special queueing systems will be introduced with signage.

Patrons may also face mandatory temperature checks to enter clubs, depending on the outcome of talks with the government.

In a pitch to new customers, Mr Landis said people who were worried about their safety would be better off at a licensed club than a small cafe or bar.

"We have always believed the size of our venues means clubs are far better placed to implement extreme social distancing measures than smaller venues, such as cafes," he said.

"In addition, our sign-in provisions mean we can assist health authorities with contact tracing in the unlikely event a patron is later diagnosed with COVID-19."

The industry also wants pub and club patrons to be able to walk up to the bar and order a drink, rather than being confined to table service. This will be decided in coming days but Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Saturday that Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant was "absolutely concerned" about people mingling at bars.

"The preference at this stage for public health is that people sit at a table," he said. "But let's listen to the industry to tell us whether that's practical and if that works."