The state’s gambling regulator has approved an application to install 16 new pokies at the Bendigo Club, saying the gaming machines would have a “slightly positive” social and economic impact for Bendigo.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation decision, announced yesterday, means the Strathdale venue can increase its pokies count to 60.
Despite objections from the City of Greater Bendigo, the commission found the application from the owner, the Kilmore Racing Club, met both the requirements for a new pokies application.
Pokies applications must pass the “no net detriment test” – a measure of the potential impacts on the local government area in which the pokies would be located – and not take the host municipality over its pokies cap.
At the time of the Bendigo Club application, venues inside the City of Greater Bendigo were licensed to operate 641 poker machines, meaning 16 more machines would still leave the region well short of its the 870-machine limit.
Since the application, the City Family Hotel – home to 39 machines – closed, meaning there are now just 602 pokies operating in Bendigo.
The commission was also satisfied that the club was aware of its obligations when it came to preventing problem gambling.
“The applicant has demonstrated there are strong [responsible service of gambling] practices currently in place, proposes to implement a new measure to reduce the emphasis on gaming at the Bendigo Club through the proposed works to limit the visibility of the gaming room from the bistro and proposes to make additional commuinity contributions,” the report found.
The club must now contribute a minimum of $55,000 every year to the community.
Bendigo Club general manager Adrian McMahon said the decision was an endorsement of his venue’s giving program.
He said funds from the additional machines would go towards the construction of a new function space, to be used by the Woodbury Bowling Club and other community organisations.
“It means more space for more community groups, and more support of those groups,” Mr McMahon said.
“We’ll also be able to reinvest in the club’s facilities to ensure a modern and comfortable environment for all of our patrons.”
In its objection to the pokies bid, the City of Greater Bendigo claimed the application was an effort to avoid paying some taxes. The commission dismissed this suggestion and also agreed with the Bendigo Club that 80 per cent of the new machines’ takings would be transferred from other venues.
The council argued the majority of takings would come from new gamblers, an assertion mayor Margaret O’Rourke stood by that assertion today when she said it was likely just 20 per cent of the machines’ revenue would come from other venues.
Cr O’Rourke also said the council would discuss in the new year whether to contest the VCGLR decision.
A review of the city’s gaming policy was currently underway and the mayor said a new policy would be developed in consultation with the community during the first half of 2018.
The VCGLR report marks another reversal in form from the Strathdale club, which went into admininstration last January.
It was later purchased by the Kilmore Racing Club.