Mon, Feb 18, 11:19am by Staff Writer
Anti-pokies lobbyists in Geelong have been dealt a blow, with a City Hall survey supporting plans to double the number of pokies at White Eagle House in Breakwater, despite council opposition.
52 per cent of the 241 surveyed supported the Polish Community Association’s bid to increase the venue’s gaming machines from 35 to 78, according to the Geelong Indy.
The survey came after councillors dedicated up to $30,000 for lawyers and an independent expert in order to combat an increase in the number of machines.
Less than a month ago, councillors voted 7-4 in favour of spending A$30,000 fighting the associations bid, despite recently losing thousands on a similar battle with the Geelong RSL.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) approved the RSL’s application for 30 extra pokies in December, despite council committing lawyers and ‘in-house’ representation to the fight.
The addition of an independent expert in this new case with White Eagle House is believed to be an important facet of the council’s strategy.
“If we analyse recent decisions at the VCGLR, the best chance we have of success is to have legal representation and an independent expert to present the strongest case possible,” Cr Sarah Mansfield told the Geelong Indy.
She opposed the application despite acknowledging the association’s “good work”.
“The density of EGMs (electronic gaming machines) in this area (Breakwater) is very high already, and this application seeks to increase that density even further.
“There’s a large body of evidence that says more machines is linked to more problem gambling. Studies have shown that areas with greater numbers of EGMs have higher numbers of help-seeking by problem gamblers,” Cr Mansfield said.
The extra pokies revenue is essential for the viability of White Eagle House according to associate secretary Henry Szkuta.
“Poker machines are going to be here to stay,” Mr Szkuta said.
“We wouldn’t be able to survive (without them) now. We’ve gone too far.”
The association has planned numerous projects totalling nearly $5 million based on the increased revenue more poker machines would generate Mr Szkuta said.
Projects included a synthetic soccer pitch and unisex change rooms for the Breakwater Eagles Soccer Club, as well as renovating White Eagle House’s sports bar and gaming areas.
“There would be no way we’d be able to do a synthetic soccer pitch without (the extra pokies),” Mr Szkuat said.
— City of Greater Geelong (@GreaterGeelong) February 13, 2019
The request for more poker machines comes despite gambling losses at the venue running at A$1.7 million in the most recent financial year, an average of $48,391 per machine according to the Geelong, Australia website.
The additional licenses would be transferred from the Geelong Football Club, which has pledged to divest itself of poker machines.
Despite its name, the Polish Community Association is privately owned.
The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation says Geelong spent more than $117 million dollars or $322,000 a day on poker machines last year – the fourth-highest expenditure in the state.
The city has 25 poker machine venues that share in 1,275 licenses, which is 10 per cent below the legislated regional cap.
The Polish Community Association has stated that the additional 43 poker machines would be rolled out in three phases if approved.
The first batch of 15 machines will be deployed upon approval, with the second allotment of 15 installed once their new sports facilities are completed.
The final 13 poker machines would follow an upgrade to the venue’s licenses hospitality facilities.
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