THE BENDIGO RSL is concerned a gambling policy revamp could inadvertently hurt community programs.
The City of Greater Bendigo is considering changing policies that make electronic gaming machines "accessible but not convenient".
A draft that is out for public comment proposes a shift to a public health focus actively discouraging opportunities to gamble.
The council would reduce financial and other support for organisations, clubs and community groups who promote or accept the proceeds of gambling, under the draft policy.
It could also use the policy to limit venues' opening hours by changing their permit conditions under the city's planning scheme.
Eleven businesses and not-for-profit venues have gaming machines in the Bendigo area.
The Bendigo RSL fears the changes go too far and could impact its not-for-profit operations.
It runs 13 veteran support programs, nine annual events including remembrance services and supports other community clubs with donations and other financial assistance, general manager Martin Beekes said.
"Without all revenue streams and restricting trading hours of the club, the [RSL branch] would not be able to run the health and wellbeing programs and welfare services for its veterans and their dependents, nor employ the amount of people that it does or support the local businesses," he said.
Mr Beekes said the draft focused too heavily on gaming machines.
"[It] ignores the elephant in the room of unregulated gambling, untaxable international websites, with no gambling help support programmes," he said.
Mr Beekes argued the council should improve the support services, invest more in self exclusion programs, gamblers help and social services for with a problem.
He said problem gambling had fallen to less than one per cent and that the policy would take away discretionary entertainment for the majority of residents, and that operators already operated in a Victorian regulatory environment that was the strictest in Australia.
A council briefing document from June 2021 said the policy was about more than just gaming machines but that a heavy focus on that form of gambling was warranted.
"They [electronic gaming machines] are still the most dominant source of financial loss and harm in Australia and their use can be influenced by local governments," it said.
A separate 2019 review found the council's gambling policies focused too narrowly on "problem gambling" and trying to locate machines in areas that were not as convenient for gamblers to attend.
"It is now widely recognised that gambling-related problems occur to the individual gambler, family and friends, and the broader community," it found.
While Bendigo residents spent less per person than the state average, the municipality had 6.8 machines per 1000 adults, compared to a state average of 5.1, according to the review.
All were within city limits.
Bendigo's machines brought in more than $50 million in the year to July, 2019, roughly $7 million more than when council wrote its first policy in 2007.
The Bendigo RSL had the second highest intake of the city's venues, with nearly $6.28 million in the 2019/20 financial year, including a period of COVID-19 lockdown closures, according to the Victorian Council of Gambling and Liquor Regulation.
The draft policy remains open for public consultation until this Friday.
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