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Essendon Bombers pokies lease secured until 2047

Wed, Feb 13, 1:10pm by Staff Writer

An attempt to overturn Melton Council’s decision to extend the Essendon Football Club’s 29-year lease of the Melton Country Club has failed.

The council voted unanimously in December for Essendon’s continued operation of Melton Country Club and its 89 poker machines until the end of 2047.

Councillor Steve Abboushi put forward a rescission motion following that meeting, in a bid to enable more community voices.

Cr Abboushi’s motion was voted down at last Monday’s meeting, the first of the year.

“You can only try your best to minimise any harm to the community,” Cr Abboushi told Star Weekly.

“I didn’t have the majority in the end, which is a bit disappointing.”

Cr Abboushi and three other councillors supported the motion.

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.

According to the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Melton suffered A$27.7 million in AFL club-sponsored pokies losses across three venues in 2017 and 2018.

AFL clubs have recently announced they will be divesting themselves of poker machine interests across the western suburbs.

Hawthorn’s associated with the WestWaters Hotel in Caroline Springs and Collingwood’s link to The Club in Caroline Springs are just two of the venues where AFL clubs will not longer be tied.

Alliance for Gambling Reform director against the extension

Alliance for Gambling Reform director Tim Costello last year urged councillors to refuse to extend Essendon’s lease.

“If the Melton councillors are brave and reject the officer recommendation to stay in the gambling business, it will have a powerful motivating impact on the reform movement,” Mr Costello said.

Melton Country Club is home to the Melton RSL, which relies on pokies revenue to upkeep its facilities.

RSL secretary Kevin Murray has a loss of the club’s ongoing sponsorship; facilities and hospitality would be “detrimental to the Melton RSL.”

“The Melton RSL sub-branch is a relatively new, relatively small, sub-branch,” Mr Murray said last week.

“Until our entry into an agreement with the Melton Country Club, we were not able to offer our members access to the usual facilities expected of an RSL sub-branch… a dining room, bar, function rooms, and in some instances, gaming rooms.

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.

“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.

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