The state government was “having an each way bet” through freezing statewide poker machine allocations for 25 years, according to a current gaming machine applicant, who was wary of “big money” infiltrating the industry in search of profits.
The cap on poker machines in Bendigo has been tempered by an extension of ‘terms’ for machines – from 10 to 20 years – which will give venues more financial stability, said Bendigo Stadium chairman Brendon Goddard, whose organisation recently applied to install 44 poker machines at a White Hills hotel.
The number of Victorian gaming machines will remain capped at 27,372 until 2042, as will Bendigo’s current allocation of 756.
If Bendigo Stadium’s application is successful, there will be 685 machines locally, with the option of 71 to be installed over the next 25 years.
Eleven local gaming venues will be vying for the remaining machines, meaning some would miss out, Mr Goddard said.
“I’m in favour of the cap, I think it’s good governance,” he said, querying how long the government would maintain the freeze for.
“Governments being governments they want money - they want to push the price up,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice & Regulation said ongoing applications would be assessed on an individual basis regardless of the cap, while venue operators will have the opportunity to acquire up to the number of entitlements they held on July 7, 2017.
Extending a licence to 20-years gave the government a stable income stream, but putting a freeze on the number helped reduce public angst over the harm caused by poker machines, according to Mr Goddard.
The state government’s decision to increase the maximum number of entitlements held by a club venue operator from 420 to 840 would attract “big money”, he said.
“I don’t think having big players in the industry is a good thing,” he said.
Punters in the city lost more than $25 million to poker machines in the first half of the 2016-17 financial year.
When discussing Bendigo Stadium’s poker machine application, City of Greater Bendigo councillor Jennifer Alden last month said: “The checklist of harm from pokies is extensive.”
“People with gambling problems can experience a wide range of harm, including physical and mental.
“We (Australia) have 20 per cent of the world’s gambling machines despite having 0.3 per cent of the population.
“How can we support the sporting clubs off the pokies teat?”
Hope for Castlemaine
The former secretary of a dissolved Castlemaine sporting club believes the state government changes will breathe new gaming life into the region, given the potential restrictions in areas with a higher concentration of poker machines.
The decision to extend licences – from 10 to 20 years – and double ownership limits was “a good thing”, and could attract existing clubs at their cap limit in a different municipality to set up in Castlemaine, resident Ian Braybrook said.
“We (Castlemaine Sports and Community Club Inc) came close to getting a club last year but could not get the finance,” he said.
The CSCC bid was for 65 machines, which cost, on average, about $15,000 each, he said.
Castlemaine has one poker machine venue which has a revenue of about $2.2 million, according to Mr Braybrook.
“Our hope is to attract an established club, perhaps even metropolitan, to come to town,” he said.
“We need and deserve a decent venue such as those enjoyed by most similar towns in Victoria.”