By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Casey Council has called for a review of gambling regulations after Zagame’s Berwick Springs Hotel won approval for 10 extra poker machines.
On 2 October, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation found the proposal to increase the hotel’s poker machines from 95 to 105 passed the ‘no net detriment’ test.
It instead found there were likely to be small, positive social and economic impacts.
The decision follows the VCGLR’s recent approval of a Dan Murphy’s liquor super-barn in Cranbourne East, despite opposition from Casey Council and Victoria Police.
Casey mayor Sam Aziz said the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 – as well as liquor control laws – needed to be reviewed to consider more broadly the views of the community and the “wider societal impacts” of gambling and alcohol.
“Council is disappointed in the VCGLR’s decision; however, it was consistent with what the legislation asks the commission to consider.”
The Berwick Springs venue is the fifth most lucrative pokies venue in the state, collecting $17.8 million in 2016-’17.
At least $393,665 will be generated by the extra machines in the first 12 months.
Some of that new expenditure will be associated with problem gambling, but there was only a low risk of an increase in problem gambling, the commission found.
“The commission finds that the catchment area of the hotel exhibits low levels of socio-economic disadvantage and generally lower vulnerability to risks of problem gambling.”
Cr Aziz said the council urged a precautionary approach to limit the impact of problem gambling on family violence rates – a link that was dismissed by the commission.
He said the council would continue to advocate to the State Government to reduce harms from gaming machines and to extend a cap limiting machine numbers in Casey.
The commission put “nil-to-marginal” weight on opposition by City of Casey, a 274-name petition from the Alliance for Gambling Reform and individual submissions.
This was due to a “relatively low” community response to the council’s survey on the issue, as well as many opponents not living in Casey and not specifically arguing about the application.
Alliance for Gambling Reform board member Tom Cummings, of Berwick, led the community objections.
“While not unexpected, this is an incredibly disappointing decision,” he said.
“The VCGLR got this one badly wrong.
“They are almost predisposed to accept the submission.”
He cited the venue’s “huge profits” and the widespread harm of pokies addiction as reasons to knock back the application.
“It’s never over. There’s the potential for someone to take it to VCAT (on appeal), which is a costly exercise.” Casey was lower than the metropolitan Melbourne average in gaming machine numbers and per-capita losses on pokies, the commission noted.
The hotel’s surrounding area was not considered to be at significant levels of disadvantage, and the increased machines were only a “small proportional increase” in machines in Casey.
Zagame’s tied up to $2.6 million of improvement works, including a larger bistro and relocated kids play area, to the proposal.
The hotel also planned to install a community service booth with responsible gambling pamphlets.
It pledged to increase its annual community contributions from $75,000 to $100,000, including a donation towards a part-time gambling support worker at Berwick Salvation Army.
Zagame’s didn’t comment by deadline.