Anti-pokies group points finger at Bendigo Stadium

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A group of anti-gambling metropolitan councils has singled out the Bendigo Stadium as among Victorian poker machine operators it says are “buying up pub licences and essentially continuing to run them as hotels”.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform – led by the Melbourne, Moreland, Dandenong, Monash and Whittlesea councils – issued a statement saying Bendigo Stadium Limited, which has plans to redevelop the Wellington and install 44 poker machines at the venue, “should not be able to get a tax break for spending this money”.

An expansion to the bar and bistro and improvements to the car park, are also planned in the $2 million upgrade.

Bendigo Community Health Services is an official supporter of the AGR and chief executive officer Kim Sykes said the organisation “remains concerned that in too many cases the people losing money on poker machines are the people who can least afford it”.

Ms Sykes said while people should be able to choose how they spend their discretionary income, poker machines had “become big business”, with sophisticated planning and design to keep people playing them longer, increasing the risk of problem gambling.

“As an organisation committed to breaking the cycle of disadvantage in Bendigo, we would always like to see more controls on poker machines, including that more of the profits made from them are directed back into assisting the community through wraparound services that can deliver sustained change for disadvantaged families,” she said.

“If this means governments and gaming authorities should look at a system that could see more profit from poker machines funding support services for individuals and families then that’s a positive discussion for the community to have.”

BSL did not respond to a request for comment but it is understood revenue from the new machines would form part of a $15 million contribution to the construction of a new stadium facility over the next 10 years.

More than $9 million was put into poker machines at the Bendigo Stadium and The Borough Club last financial year, both of which are owned by BSL.

The club claimed more than 40 per cent of its total revenue in 2015-16 was returned to the community, but a Bendigo Advertiser analysis of the data in May found the majority of the money was spent on operational costs.