NEWSAGENTS in the Bega Valley are “in real strife” if the moratorium on the sale of lottery products ends in April as scheduled, some say.
A five-year moratorium was included in legislation for the $1billion, 40-year lease of NSW lotteries to the privately owned Tatts Group in 2010 to allow newsagents time to adjust to greater competition.
It is due to expire on April 1.
Labor has promised to protect the exclusive right of newsagents and convenience stores to sell lottery products if it is elected in March, but that promise was soundly denounced as untenable by NSW Treasurer and Member for Bega Andrew Constance.
Martin Hunter Jones is the newsagent at Bermagui and says his whole livelihood is at risk if lotteries are opened up to all retailers – including potentially supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths.
“I’ve only been in this business 12 months and when taking it on we were reassured verbally there was no intention of doing that [allowing lotteries into supermarkets],” Mr Hunter Jones said.
“The bottom line is I have half a million invested in this business.
“Bermagui in particular has a tiny business area with a supermarket going in away from the main area.
“We’re in real strife here.”
Mr Hunter Jones said a high percentage of his revenue is through lotteries and, with the downturn in newspaper sales, it is a vital part of his business – and that of around 1500 newsagencies across the state.
“That’s what brings people in,” he said.
“Their [the State Government] argument is they can’t change it because the previous government signed up for it.
“They don’t seem to have any problem creating legislation to fix other bad decisions though.”
Tathra newsagent Brendan Michael said without lotteries, “I wouldn’t last 12 months”.
“My commissions [on lottery products] virtually pays my rent here,” Mr Michael said.
“If they take lotteries off me I don’t think I’d last 12 months - then Tathra would be without a newsagent.”
Mr Michael said it would be impossible to make up the difference by increasing sales on other stocked items and there would be fewer people coming through the door.
“A lot of my customers and regulars have expressed disbelief,” he said.
“It’s just another grab by Woolies to put small business out of action.
“I’m getting towards retirement age and this business is my superannuation.
“If they take away the lotteries, it’s going to make it tough to sell.”
The loss of lottery sales – and the potential loss of the town’s newsagent - has wider implications as like many regional newsagencies, Tathra’s is also a hub for fishing gear sales, toys, stationery and cards along with the usual newspapers and magazines.
“Woolies is already in competition with us on stationery and cards – they sell magazines and papers.
“Lotteries aren’t going to get any more revenue if they change who is allowed to sell them.
“People already have a limited disposable income – they are not going to spend more just because it’s in a big supermarket.”
NOT everyone is pessimistic about the future of newsagents if Tatts moves to open up sales of its products in NSW.
While acknowledging a move to have lottery products sold through supermarkets such as Woolies and Coles could spell the end for small newsagencies, Bega newsagent Ross Ritchie said he felt it was an unlikely move.
“Tatts have indicated to newsagents there’s no plans to go into supermarkets,” Mr Ritchie said during an interview with ABC South East Radio’s Tim Holt.
“If they wanted to they would - and we’d be finished.
“But I don’t think that’s likely to happen and I don’t think the situation is particularly dire for newsagents.
“It may be for some smaller ones in Sydney that are marginal at best.
“[But] as a generalisation, they are reasonably secure.”
NSW Treasurer and Member for Bega Andrew Constance produced Treasury advice that the "greater retail penetration" achieved by lifting the moratorium "could increase the value of the state's lottery revenue duties until 2050 by around $760million".
However, Labor small business spokesman Adam Searle disputed the Treasury analysis, arguing lifting the moratorium would see the 1500 outlets currently selling lottery products go broke.
Distribution would simply transfer to larger retailers with no revenue increase.
- With Sean Nicholls, Sydney Morning Herald