PLANS for a new pokies venue in Castlemaine have been scrapped, after the state’s administrative tribunal ruled the gaming machines would be detrimental to the well-being of the community.
The landmark VCAT ruling was a win for the Mount Alexander Shire, which spent a year battling the proposed venue.
For the Maryborough Highland Society, it signalled the end of plans to develop a disused railway shed into a function centre complete with 65 poker machines.
Maryborough Highland Society general manager Malcolm Blandthorn said all planning applications would now be withdrawn.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We’ve given it our best shot, we’ve fought very hard to get it to this point in time. But we won’t pursue it further.”
VCAT deputy president Mark Dwyer ruled the negative social impact of poker machines outweighed any “moderate economic benefits” to the town.
Mr Dwyer said that with only 30 existing poker machines in the town, plans for 65 new machines would change the social character of Castlemaine.
He concluded that uncertainty in the Maryborough Highland Society’s proposal “rather than any knockout blow from the council or Enough Pokies In Castlemaine on any single issue” helped determine the final ruling.
Mount Alexander Shire mayor Michael Redden said the decision vindicated the council for “sticking to their guns”.
“I thought it was finely balanced, and could have gone either way, but we’re pleased with the outcome,” he said.
Community group Enough Pokies in Castlemaine – who backed the shire in their VCAT appeal – yesterday said they were relieved.
“Many community members have spent an enormous amount of time supporting this appeal,” president David Stretch said. “We’re looking forward to the community getting back to business.”
The victory came as a rare decision by VCAT to uphold an appeal by a council or community group against poker machines.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Elizabeth O’Shea, who represented EPIC and the shire, said it was a “watershed moment”.
“It should act as a blueprint for other communities... in the fight against unwanted pokies and problem gambling,” she said.