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Darebin takes RSL to Supreme Court

Thu, May 16, 5:26pm by Staff Writer

Darebin Council in Victoria is taking its battle against more poker machines in the Shire to the Supreme Court.

The Age reports that Darebin Council Mayor Susan Rennie was extremely disappointed in a decision made by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that supported Darebin RSL Club’s bid for an extra 15 pokies machines despite opposition from the community.

The council voted to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court at a confidential meeting on Monday night.

Cr Rennie said people lost $82 million to gambling on the pokies in the City of Darebin every year and it was a major driver of household debt and family breakdown and contributed to family violence.

“Darebin will not stand idly by and accept this,” she said.

The VCAT decision said the tribunal was satisfied there would be “no net detriment to the wellbeing of the community of Darebin” as a result of the extra 15 pokie machines, which would bring the total number of machines at the club to 80.

However, it refused to allow the club to operate for an extra 12 hours a week – with five of those hours being after 1am – saying it was “well established” that operating hours after 1am were a risk for problem gambling.

Problem gambler highlights flaws in self exclusion

Stuart McDonald, a problem gambler who lives 400 metres from Darebin RSL, told the tribunal he had been banned from entering the club under the voluntary self-exclusion program.

However this had “proved pointless’ as he had repeatedly been allowed to enter and gamble.

“When my wife and I brought this up with venue management, they answered that banning me is impossible as they are too busy and have too many excluded gamblers on their books,” he told VCAT.

The tribunal noted this was “an unfortunate incident and one that should not occur”.

It said harm minimisation techniques were “good in theory but difficult in practice to implement.”

VCAT also found there was a “generalized increased risk of problem gambling” as a result of the extra pokie machines, but said quantifying this was difficult.

It said the Darebin RSL had proposed an extra $15,000 in annual community contributions and said it would pay for a second community bus if the extra pokie machines were approved.

The bus would take members to the club, medical appointments and funerals.

A paid welfare officer would also be employed.

VCAT considered these to be positive economic and social impacts.

“Overall we consider that the net economic and social impact of the additional 15 electronic gaming machines is neutral to the wellbeing of the community of Darebin,” the decision found.

Mr McDonald told The Age he was disappointed but not surprised: “VCAT generally sides with venue operators.”

He said his pokies addiction had cost him thousands of dollars and “a lot of shame and embarrassment.”

Darebin RSL general manager Mark Russell did not respond for comment.

Currently there are 744 pokie machines in the City of Darebin – just short of the maximum 769 allowed.

Darebin has the 12th highest expenditure on pokies in Victoria according to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

Cr Rennie said a 2018 community survey in the City of Darebin showed 86.8 per cent of respondents agreed electronic gaming machines were too widely accessible and 70.2 per cent felt they were a serious problem.

Last December, Darebin Council unanimously passed a tough new policy, which the Pokies Play You group described as “Australia’s strongest gambling reform policy.”

Under the policy, groups that operate a gambling venue will be banned from using council property – including sporting grounds – and will be ineligible for financial assistance.

It will be phased in over four years.

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