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Application for 10 more pokies in Monbulk

Thu, May 30, 8:19am by Staff Writer

Monbulk Bowling Club says that adding 10 new poker machines will help to create a better venue for the community.

The Ranges Trader is reporting the not-for-profit organization has applied to the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation to increase its electronic gaming machines from 30 to 40.

There are 442 pokies in the Yarra Ranges across nine venues, 38 per cent of the region’s cap.

The Victorian Local Governance Association hosted two information sessions about the application at the Monbulk Living and Learning Centre on Wednesday, 22 May, after approaching the Yarra Ranges Council and offering to facilitate the discussions.

Rose O’Leary from the VCGLR chaired the event, which she said was designed to empower the community to have their say on the proposal.

Her presence is funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, which is funded by the Community Support Fund, which received money from electronic gaming machine revenue.

Ms O’Leary brought with her Carmel, a pokies reform advocate who lost a sister to suicide following gambling addiction.

“Pokies are often seen as fun and entertaining,” Carmel said.

“Like everything in life, there’s always a different side.”

Social element lost on some

Carmel said playing the pokies often starts as a social thing, and people who become addicted kept their struggles secret because of shame.

“They don’t want to lose their family, but they don’t want to lose the pokies,” she said.

“It becomes a thirst you can’t quench. These machines are addictive.”

Monbulk Bowling Club general manager Denise Rutzou likened people playing pokies at her venue to people choosing to spend $50 on dinner and a movie.

“They should be allowed to do that,” she said.

“It’s a form of entertainment.”

She said that adding the extra machines would help to fund a $1.7 million renovation, and would give players more choice.

“We aim to be competitive with the venues off the mountain,” she said.

Ms Rutzou said Monbulk Bowling Club was not just a pokies venue, but an important part of the community.

It formed in 1965 to provide a venue for bowlers.

“Bowling remains as the focus,” she said.

Today, it is a place for locals to meet, eat and relax with friends and family, employing 21 people.

Venue is not pokies focused

Ms Rutzou said the venue regularly provided free entertainment for the community and supported community groups with sponsorships and donations.

“Over the most recent three-year period the club has donated a total of $327,281 in cash and kind contributions to the community,” she said.

“With 10 more machines, it will allow the club to enhance its facilities and contribute further to its community benefits.”

She said participating in bowls was declining, so the club wanted to attract more people through other means, and upgrading the venue was a key part of this.

She said the additional pokies would lock in the revenue needed to make the upgrade happen.

Ms Rutzou admitted problem gambling was a serious issue.

“The staffing and philosophy of a venue is very important,” she said.

She said Monbulk Bowling Club displayed gamblers help posters, had no ATM on-site, had clocks on all machines, qualified staff monitoring the gaming floor to proactively identify problem gamblers and a venue support worked who attends regularly.

“We don’t want to encourage problem gamblers at all,” she said.

“We want people to use and enjoy the whole venue.”

Ms Rutzou said Census statistics showed the population of Monbulk and surrounds did not fit the problem gambling profit, and that studies showed problem gamblers preferred large or online venues for anonymity.

She said smaller venues with friendly interaction between staff and gamblers were not considered high-risk for problem gamblers.

The council has commissioned an initial social and economic impact statement that will examine the Monbulk community’s characteristics, due for endorsement at the June 11 council meeting.

Community feedback will also inform the council’s statement.

The full application can be viewed on the VCGLR website.

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