Council to oppose Waurn Ponds pokies application

Council has voted to oppose an application by the Waurn Ponds Hotel to the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) for 11 extra Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs), having declared its opposition to any increase in pokies in our region.

Further emphasising their desire to reduce the impact of pokies on the local community, councillors have also resolved to write to the Victorian Government requesting a reduction in Greater Geelong’s EGM cap.

An alternate motion put forward by Cr Sarah Mansfield and supported by the Council during Tuesday night’s meeting noted the ‘increasing community concern about the harm caused to individuals and the wider community through problem gambling’.

The Victorian Government has set a cap of 1421 EGMs across Greater Geelong and the Borough of Queenscliffe.

With 1357 pokies licenses allocated, there are 64 still available. All venues wishing to secure licenses must apply to the VCGLR.

If successful in its application, the Waurn Ponds Hotel’s poker machine numbers would rise from 70 to 81.

Although an assessment of the application against the Council’s current EGM policy did not give cause to a challenge, councillors voted to oppose the proposed increase on the basis that:

  • The existing policy was created in 2017 and is under review, with a report due before the Council late in 2020;
  • Greater Geelong already has more EGMs than any other region in Victoria, creating substantial financial losses in the community;
  • Council believes that COVID-19 has created additional financial and social stress, which is not captured in the 2016 Census data used to inform the assessment;
  • There has been rapid and substantial growth in the Waurn Ponds area, which in Council’s view may have altered the demographic information used for the assessment; and
  • Council believes that COVID-19 may have created difficulties engaging with the community and relevant organisations about the application.

Pokies in Greater Geelong generated $119 million in gambling losses during the 2018-19 financial year alone. The 70 existing pokies at the Waurn Ponds Hotel accounted for $6.6 million of these losses.

Council has objected to three recent applications from venues in our region, appearing in person at all three VCGLR hearings.

These challenges resulted in the refusal of an application for extra pokies at White Eagle House in Breakwater, and more stringent conditions for the introduction of additional pokies at the Geelong RSL in Belmont.

An application from Clifton Springs Golf Club was approved by the VCGLR despite Council’s opposition.

Councillor Sarah Mansfield, Chair, Social Inclusion portfolio:

It’s our duty to listen to the community, and I’ve received strong feedback in opposition to this application in recent days.

Our existing EGM policy is under review as a result of shifting community attitudes and the strong stance of this council during our term.

There is justification for opposing this application, in particular the impact of COVID-19 on our community. There are many more people in our community who will be vulnerable to problem gambling on EGMs when gaming venues reopen.

There’s a large body of evidence linking various community harms to problem gambling on pokies, and our region has the most pokies of anywhere in the state.

We must do all we can to prevent that number from rising further. For that reason it’s also important that we advocate to the state government for a reduction in our cap.

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