The ruling from the state’s administrative tribunal has been the clearest voice yet in an otherwise highly-charged and at times hostile debate on poker machines.
Yesterday’s decision from VCAT about whether the pokies would or wouldn’t be allowed brought to a head more than two years of lobbying and impassioned debate within the community.
The proposal for 65 new poker machine licenses was ultimately knocked back.
The victors – Mount Alexander Shire and community group Enough Pokies in Castlemaine – were celebrating the fact their convictions were validated.
The losers – Maryborough Highland Society and Castlemaine Sports and Community Club – were given a hard pill to swallow and must now reconvene to come up with a business model without poker machine revenue.
The crux of what is ultimately a landmark VCAT ruling came down to a clinical analysis of the pros and cons.
“The economic impacts of the proposal, considered alone, will be positive, but only moderately so,” VCAT deputy president Mark Dwyer said.
“The social impacts of the proposal, considered alone, will be negative, and moderate to strongly so.”
It reads a bit like a weather forecast and was far less evocative than most of the buzzwords and sweeping generalisations used previously in the debate – but it was ultimately what was needed to settle the appeal.
The detrimental social impact of pokies has in this case been shown to outweigh the economic benefits.
It’s an argument of balance that could, and should, become a precedent for other communities.