Does Bendigo need a new gaming policy?
The idea was floated by councillor Andrea Metcalf at a recent council meeting.
“If council seriously wants to oppose additional electronic gaming machines in the city a review of the decade-old gaming policy is vital,” Cr Metcalf said last week.
Related: Pokies' community benefits 'a farce'
With the gambling industry and government legislation evolving at such pace, Cr Metcalf argued having a new, council-specific policy would position Bendigo better for future discussions surrounding poker machine applications.
“From this increase (in EGM cap) it is clear the issue isn't going away, and it is now time to get our house in order,” Cr Metcalf added.
Another premise of the councillor’s argument was that council reports, which either support or oppose applications, rely on poker machine data published by the state’s gambling regulator – the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.
Data, as Cr Metcalf suggested, can be construed in many different ways to suit a particular argument.
Having a clear, updated policy would lessen the reliance on these figures, she said.
Bendigo council’s 2007 gaming policy framework focuses on a ‘accessible but not convenient policy’, which discourages poker machines in centralised venues.
The 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.
In 2011, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) referenced the policy as one of the reasons for overturning a decision by the VCGLR to reject an application for 25 EGMs at the Foundry Hotel.
Council’s opposition to the most recent EGM applications are in part based on accessibility, but have an increasingly holistic approach, focusing on the social and economic impacts of potential poker machines.
Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesperson Stephen Mayne said the debate around poker machines had moved on from 2007, with many councils treating it as a public health issue.
He said accessibility was still an issue and councils could discourage it through planning scheme amendments and leasing policies.
Related: Pokies application knocked back
“Local government is not conflicted and is uniquely placed to lead the debate (around the impact of poker machines),” he said.
Metropolitan councils, like the City of Monash, have led the way in this space, by not supporting – through grants or council resources – groups that promote gambling.
A section of the shire’s Public Health Approach to Gambling Policy Statement 2016 – 2020 reads: “Council will not provide community grants, funding, sponsorship, council facilities, publicity or promotion for community groups/organisations that promote gambling. All relevant council guidelines will align with this policy position.”
We encourage Bendigo to be brave and follow the lead of trailblazers such as Darebin and Monash (councils)Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesperson Stephen Mayne
Similarly, City of Darebin councillors passed a motion at a meeting in June to “not provide sporting grounds, council venues or use of council property to any sporting clubs, community groups, organisations or associations who directly operate or own EGMs in Darebin or elsewhere”.
Mr Mayne added: “We encourage Bendigo to be brave and follow the lead of trailblazers such as Darebin and Monash (councils).”
City of Greater Bendigo health and wellbeing director Vicky Mason said council was in the initial stages of reviewing its gaming policy.
Ms Mason said the council has provided a budget toward soliciting expert help on the issue, with city staff expected to meet the local government representative bodies in coming weeks.
“It’s about exploring other things council can do (in the gambling space),” she said.
Local governments were in part restricted by what they could do through the Victorian planning scheme, which is currently being reviewed by the state government, Ms Mason said.
Bendigo deputy mayor Jennifer Alden, who had previously been vocal on the negative impact of poker machines in the community, said council’s commitment to renewing its gaming policy was endorsed as part of its community plan, arguing the existing policy was “dated”.
“We want something that might reflect current evident to help us address current (EGM) applications,” she said.
On following the lead of other metropolitan councils, Cr Alden said: “We’ll look at the full spectrum of council’s responsibility for health and wellbeing with regards to who is sponsoring community activities.”
“One would hope that ultimately their (clubs and pubs) business models would evolve to a point where they no longer need to factor in revenue from their machines as an income model.”
Bendigo Stadium operates 105 EGMs across a number of city venues and its chairman, Brendon Goddard, agreed the council’s policy needed reviewing.
“The fact is it (gambling) is a legal activity but they (council) don't want gaming anywhere,” he said.
“If it's a legal activity why should it not be allowed in some places?”
He also said gambling helped make sport viable.