Thu, Feb 7, 1:04pm by Staff Writer
The Essendon Football Club has secured a lucrative 29-year lease for a suburban pokies venue after a vote last Monday night but The Age is reporting that the deciding vote was cast by a local mayor, who has been accused of having a conflict of interest.
Melton City councillors voted to allow the Bombers to continue operating the Melton Country Club and its 89 poker machines until the end of 2047.
Essendon’s lease for the Melton venue, where punters lost A$5.69 million in 2017-18 was due to expire in 2022.
Councillors also rejected a proposal to force the venue to close its doors between 1am and 9am.
The council initially backed the pokies lease in a unanimous vote in December, but a successful motion to repeal the lease was put forward by councillor Steve Abboushi in a bid to hear from more voices in the community regarding the plan.
The lease was up for debate again at this week’s meeting, where Cr Abboushi put forward a compromise deal to reduce the length of Essendon’s lease to 10 years while enforcing reduced opening hours.
Tied at 4-4, mayor Bob Turner used his casting vote to grant Essendon its bumper lease with no restrictions on opening hours.
The mayor has admitted that a charity he is the vice-president of, The Gap on Graham Inc, received A$300,000 in funding from Essendon, the final instalment coming in 2013-14.
The Gap on Graham, chaired by the mayor’s wife, is a not-for-profit group focussed on disadvantaged local youth.
Gambling reform advocate and former City of Melbourne councillor Stephen Mayne has since lodged a referral to the Local Government Inspectorate, which is now assessing the matter.
“It’s one of the clearest local government conflicts I’ve ever seen. I hope the inspectorate sends a strong message that this sort of thing can’t be tolerated,” Mr Mayne said.
In December, the decision to extend Essendon’s license was slammed by gambling reform advocate Tim Costello, who was critical of the Melton RSL’s support for the lease extension.
The Melton RSL’s submission states that a failure to renew the lease would put in jeopardy its ability to conduct activities in the premises, having a “most detrimental” effect on the branch.
— Candice Rodriguez (@dicerod) February 5, 2019
“Essendon knows you do not enrich a football club on the back of personal misery and broken lives, which is why other AFL clubs have decided to get out of pokies,” Mr Costello said.
Essendon chief executive officer Xavier Campbell told The Age in November 2018 that: “we (Essendon) have spoken to this publicly on a number of occasions – we endeavour to become less reliant on gaming as a revenue stream and we have invested heavily in building our strategy and investment divisions to work toward exploring opportunities in this space.”
The Bombers posted an A$2.3 million net operating profit in 2018, but the club remains in significant debt, largely due to the costs associated with the supplements saga.
The debt, which totalled more than A$11 million in 2016, has been reduced to around A$4 million.
While Essendon is extending its ties with local gaming clubs and machines, the NRL’s Melbourne Storm this week announced it will begin to divest itself from gaming interests.
Victoria’s only NRL club is privately owned by a conglomerate including caravan magnate Gerry Ryan and bookmaker Matt Tripp.
The group sold the Kealba Hotel in Melbourne’s north-west, including its 172 poker machine licenses to IPR Hotels last month.
The hotel in St Albans was the only Storm-related pokies holding and is a site where punters lost the fourth-highest amount of money out of nearly 500 venues in Victoria. Losses at the venue neared A$20 million in 2018.
The Victorian government’s gambling regulator has indicated that poker machine licenses are valued at approximately A$13 million, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The sale of the license and the hotel points to a significant windfall for the 2018 NRL Grand Finalist’s, who purchased the venue for A$10 million in 2015.
The Kealba Hotel is within the Brimbank local government area,, which last year recorded the highest pokies losses in the state.
The A$140 million loss figure is a state record.
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