The proprietors of three suburban hotels in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle have applied to the state's licensing authority to extend the hotels' operating hours into the early morning.
One application, from East End developer and hotelier Iris Capital, proposes the gaming room and "lounge areas" of Gunyah Hotel stay open from 10am to 4am, while also requesting to increase the number of poker machines on the site from 17 to 30, the maximum number of machines allowed in a NSW hotel.
Professor Kypros Kypri, of the University of Newcastle's School of Medicine and Public Health, says the applications before the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority represent a "new possibility" of suburban hotels in Newcastle "moving against the tide of recognising that something needs to be done to reduce the harm of alcohol".
He said the fact that all three hotels have poker machines was also concerning.
"The likelihood that the people gambling have a gambling addiction is much higher at 1am, 2am and 3am than at 9pm," Professor Kypri said.
The likelihood that the people gambling have a gambling addiction is much higher at 1am, 2am and 3am than at 9pmProfessor Kypros Kypri
Two pubs, the Gunyah Hotel in Belmont and the Shaft Tavern in Elermore Vale, are seeking to remain open between 12am and 4am Monday to Saturday. Both of the pubs were purchased by Iris Capital in the latter half of last year.
Shaft Tavern's application concerns the pub's gaming room, main bar, sports bar, lounge and TAB. Gunyah's application is only for the gaming room and "lounge areas".
A separate application to ILGA proposes to increase the number of gambling machines at the Gunyah Hotel from 17 to 30. The Shaft Tavern has 26.
"Iris Capital's plans to expand operations at the Shaft Tavern and Gunyah Hotel to put the businesses on a level playing field with other venues, and to bring the hotels into line with current community expectations," a statement from the company said. "The community has been given the opportunity to provide submissions about the proposal to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority."
Thomas Hotels, the owner of The Premier Hotel at Broadmeadow, has also applied to delay the hotel's closing until 3am, Tuesdays to Sundays. The changes include the hotel's sports bar and gaming room, which contains 19 poker machines.
Thomas Hotels' application proposes limiting the number of patrons to 80 after 1am and restricting entry and egress to the hotel's doorway on Brunker Road.
"The hotel retains significant numbers of patrons until its present closing time at midnight following major events at the International Sports Centre or race meetings at Broadmeadow Racecourse," the application stated. "One purpose of the application is to create the ability for the hotel to allow those patrons who stay until midnight to filter out in smaller numbers over time so that, for example, taxis can better service them.
"Another reason is to cater for the shift workers employed in nearby industries, on the railways, at the International Sports Centre, and in the hospitality industry to enjoy the ambience of a well-managed hotel."
Professor Kypri, who specialises in alcohol and public health, said the three applications, if approved, would have ramifications for public safety.
He said the proposals "moved against" the results of Newcastle's lock-out laws. Since 2008 hotels in Newcastle's CBD have had to close by 3.30am and new patrons have been barred from entering venues from 1am.
"In both Newcastle and in Sydney when the restrictions came into effect, there were large reductions in cases of assault per month. They fell by more than a third. In other research, when hours have been extended in areas, those studies show even larger increases in the incidence of assault."
"Getting home from these venues is also problematic," he said. "In Elermore Vale and Belmont there's no train. When people are out for longer, it increases their likelihood of drink driving."
Gunyah and The Shaft's applications stated the hotels were in areas that had few people who fit the typical profile of problem gamblers, who tended to be younger men, have lower levels of education, and are more likely to be single and unemployed.
Professor Kypri, however, contradicted the applicant's reasoning saying the Socio Economic Index compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated areas surrounding the hotels did experience social and financial disadvantage, particularly South Belmont, which is placed in the second-highest category for socio-economic deprivation on the bureau's scale.
Kate da Costa, the spokesperson for the Alliance for Gambling NSW, said the lobby group opposed all applications for increased poker machines, which, she said, were "designed to addict".
"The Gunyah Hotel wants to become a mini-casino, making the owner an extra $630,000 after tax from locals, operating till 4am, when there will be nothing but gambling in the 'pub'."
The alliance said the suburb already had 440 poker machines in operation.
At least 260 of those poker machines are in Belmont 16s, a club positioned about a five-minute drive from the Gunyah Hotel. The club stays open until 3am every night.
The proprietors of Belmont Hotel have also applied to increase the number of gaming machines on the premises from 23 to 30, however, they have not sought to extend trading hours beyond 12am.
Professor Kypri said the large number of poker machines allowed in clubs in NSW was a "separate question" to the hotels' applications.
"The way to address that isn't to permit the pubs more," he said.