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No extra pokies for White Eagle House

Mon, Apr 15, 1:40pm by Staff Writer

The Polish Community Association in Geelong has had its application for an increase in gaming machines knocked back.

Bay 93.9 is reporting that the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation last week refused the venue’s application.

The White Eagle House in Breakwater was seeking to increase its number of poker machines from 35 to 78 in a move that divided the community.

The City of Greater Geelong announced in January they would oppose the move and endorsed a spend of $30,000 to appear in person at the hearing with legal representation and an expert independent witness.

In its argument against the application, council said they were not in favour of it because White Eagle House is in an area of social and economic disadvantage and the area already has a higher concentration of pokies within a 2.5 kilometre radius than the average density across the municipality.

Data found pokies users lost a total of $1.69 million at White Eagle House during the 2017/18 financial year, an average of $48,391 per machine.

Council vote in January endorsed spend

Councillors voted 7-4 in January 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.

Club said they needed machine revenue for survival

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.

The association’s application suggested that White Eagle House’s future and proposed upgrades to adjacent Breakwater Eagles Soccer Club facilities were dependent on the extra pokies revenue.

“The buildings at Fellmongers Rd are deteriorating and sorely in need of expensive upgrading and refurbishment,” the application said.

“If these works are delayed much longer, the disrepair of the building, plant and equipment will be beyond the means of the club to redress.”

The application also cited “stiff competition” from other gaming venues, including the AFL-aligned Buckley’s 600 metres away, and the association’s 2016 sale of a central Geelong property to “avoid insolvency”.

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