Poker machines in White Hills could make gambling more convenient, former organisation head says

CORNERSTONE: Poker machines could take the place of the drive-through bottle shop if a planned upgrade to The Wellington gets the go-ahead.

CORNERSTONE: Poker machines could take the place of the drive-through bottle shop if a planned upgrade to The Wellington gets the go-ahead.

Plans for a new gaming venue in Bendigo would create more opportunities for gambling in a city that has long held a policy poker machines not be made convenient, a former social service director has said.

Carolyn Wallace, who was a regional director at gambling help provider Anglicare Victoria until 2016, said a proposal 44 poker machines be installed in a refurbished The Wellington at the Botanical Gardens could cause hardship for vulnerable members of the community.

She listed financial loss, relationship strain and threats to employment as possible consequences of problem gambling. 

“They’re all interrelated,” Ms Wallace said. 

Victorians lost $2.6 billion on poker machines across the state, $44.7 million more than the previous year.

She also said introducing poker machines in an area currently without a gaming venue challenged the council’s Gaming Policy Framework, which called for pokies to be “accessible but not convenient”.

The 2007 policy also orders gaming machines be kept out of areas with above-average disadvantage and only installed in places where non-gambling entertainment options were available. 

Bendigo Stadium Limited are pitching the pokies as part of a $2 million redevelopment at the Napier Street hotel and said this week revenue raised by the machines would be put towards community projects, including a new sporting facility.  

But Ms Wallace said venues’ donations to the community were “nominal” in comparison to the effect they had on vulnerable people.

“I think it continues to expand the gaming culture and opportunity and to promote gaming as a normalised part of people's recreation,” Ms Wallace said.

The former Anglicare Victoria Bendigo head also rejected the notion playing poker machines was a choice best left to individuals, saying it was a government’s role to protect their citizens. 

“We make choices all the time about what we do and don't accept,” she said.

“We legalise some things and ban other activities because we're not prepared to bear the impact of the harm.”