By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A reformed problem-gambler has urged others to join him in a campaign against an application by Zagame’s Berwick Springs Hotel for 10 extra poker machines.
Tom Cummings, of Berwick, has lost $100,000 as well as a relationship, home, friendships and most of his belongings to the ‘one-armed bandits’.
Pokies had been a way for him to “turn off the world” but he was back living with his parents, with a tonne of debts and dark thoughts.
Sixteen years on, his life has been rebuilt, though his addiction will never go away.
He keeps clear of the venues, protecting himself from the constant threat of relapse. But he’s hard-pressed to find a “local” pub without pokies.
Ten more machines on top of 95 already at Zagame’s is more significant than it seems, Mr Cummings said.
Zagame’s had successfully added 10 machines in 2015. In the same period, its annual pokies revenue jumped by $1.7 million – more than 500 per cent higher than the projected impact.
In the same period, annual pokies spending in Casey went up by $5.4 million. The municipality’s venues piled up the second-highest revenue from pokies in the state – $125 million in 2015-’16.
Put it another way, that’s $342,000 a day lost down the slots.
“The question is why do they need 10 more,” Mr Cummings said.
“It is the 10th highest pokies spending venue in the state, the highest in Casey and they’re on track to make $18 million (in 2016-’17) with the machines that they’ve got.”
Mr Cummings concedes it’s an uphill battle to convince the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation to reject the application.
The commission’s nett social benefit test was a flawed formula, Mr Cummings said.
In most cases, the VCGLR considers the money made by the venue outweighs the potential community harm, even when opposed by the local council and residents, he said.
“The only way is to get a lot of people to stand up against them.”
For the past seven years, Mr Cummings has campaigned for reform on his blog-site, Cyenne.
He is forming a petition, preparing his opposing submission and urging others to make their voices heard.
“I believe the general public are less accepting of pokies than they used to be,” he said.
“The number of casual gamblers has dropped, even though losses keep going up.”
Casey Council has invited public submissions into its social impact assessment of the Zagame’s proposal.
Casey city planning manager Nicola Ward said the assessment was being conducted to determine if the proposal would result in a net community benefit or detriment.
The council had limited grounds to oppose additional gaming machines under the state’s Gambling Regulation Act, Ms Ward said.
“Council has a long-term commitment to reducing the negative impacts of gambling from EGMs in Casey, particularly within our more vulnerable communities.
“Council’s position remains that there be no new machines in community areas of high social and economic disadvantage.”
Mr Cummings said the council should think “long and hard” on the $125 million lost by its residents each year on pokies.
As well as the social services that are placed under pressure, and its duty of care to its constituents, he added.
Zagame’s didn’t respond to Star News by deadline.
Submissions to the council assessment close on 23 June.