Bendigo Stadium Limited funds Catholic School across road from planned gaming venue

NEIGHBOURS: Gaming machines could be installed just metres from Holy Rosary if council gives Bendigo Stadium its approval. BSL has provided sponsorship to the school as recently as last weekend.  Picture: NONI HYETT
NEIGHBOURS: Gaming machines could be installed just metres from Holy Rosary if council gives Bendigo Stadium its approval. BSL has provided sponsorship to the school as recently as last weekend. Picture: NONI HYETT

A Bendigo poker machine licensee is sponsoring a Catholic primary school just metres from where it plans to open a gaming venue.

But both organisations say payments are not an incentive to keep quiet about the installation of 44 new pokies.   

Holy Rosary Primary School on Napier Street, White Hills, is immediately opposite The Wellington at the Botanical Gardens, which Bendigo Stadium Limited acquired in late 2015 and for which it last week lodged an application to install pokies. 

Almost $4000 was donated to Holy Rosary since October last year to support two movie night fundraisers, one of which was held last Saturday. 

Acting principal Catherine Monahan said BSL was one of 20 event sponsors and the money was used for a jumping castle, face paint and slot cars. 

"Like all school communities, Holy Rosary relies on fundraising and local sponsorship to ensure the best facilities and resources for students," Ms Monahan said.

But a BSL brochure detailing plans for The Wellington names Holy Rosary as one of 24 beneficiaries of its community contributions in the 2015-2016 financial year. 

Holy Rosary relies on fundraising and local sponsorship to ensure the best facilities and resources for students.

Catherine Monahan, Holy Rosary Primary School acting principal

Ms Monahan said the school trusted the judgment of City of Greater Bendigo councillors to decide whether the redevelopment application went ahead.  

BSL chief executive officer Jason Wallace attended a school board meeting just six days after opening The Wellington to discuss "plans for possible future partnerships", a 2015 school newsletter read.

Mr Wallace was not available for comment today, BSL chairman Brendon Goddard said the CEO “went to tell [the school] plans for the hotel”. 

​Mr Wallace said last week he had discussed plans for The Wellington redevelopment with Holy Rosary and measures were being taken to minimise the pokies’ impact on schoolchildren.

The planning application for the Napier Street site explained the gaming room would not open until 9.30am on school days and signage would be discreet.

TAB advertising is already visible from the Holy Rosary grounds. 

The gaming room itself would be located at the rear of the premises in a re-purposed drive-through bottle shop, the application read. 

The document also claimed proximity to gaming venues did not encourage children to gamble, saying it was their parents’ gaming habits that were the biggest influence.  

A 2011 Australian Centre for Education Research study of more than 5000 the country’s children found three-quarters of those aged 10 to 14 had gambled in the last year. One in five young people who gambled were considered either at-risk or problem gamblers.

In 2015-16, Victorians lost $2.6 billion on poker machines across the state, $44.7 million more than the previous year.

But BSL said it “care[d] passionately” about curbing gambling harm and did not “seek to attract any person who cannot afford gaming”.

A social and economic impact assessment prepared on behalf of BSL and submitted as part of its planning application argued the benefits of 44 new machines to the community outstripped the danger. 

It also estimated the club would create as many as 12 new jobs and grow BSL’s financial contributions to the community. 

The new machines would form part of a ten-year $15 million contribution to the construction of a new stadium facility over the next 10 years. More than $9 million was put into BSL pokies at the stadium and The Borough Club last year.