By Cam Lucadou-Wells and Victoria Stone-Meadows
Casey Council has listened to ‘people power’ and will object to a proposed 10 extra poker machines being installed at Berwick Springs Hotel.
At a council meeting on 18 July, Councillor Timothy Jackson said 85 per cent of public submissions were against hotel proprietor Zagame’s application to increase its machines from 95 to 105.
The community said no, so the council should say no, he said.
In its objection, the council will note the $124 million lost by pokie gamblers in Casey in 2015-’16, including $45,000 a day at Berwick Springs Hotel.
The extra gaming machines would cause the further loss of an estimated $457,584 a year.
Casey will also submit that Zagame’s, if successful, should double its community donations to $150,000 a year.
The hotel – which made $16.5 million from pokies in 2015-’16 – had offered to increase its donations to $100,000.
Councillors overturned a Casey officer’s recommendation – based on an independent peer review of Zagame’s application – to support the pokie increase.
The review by Public Place stated the proposal was a “minor change” that was “not … likely to result in a material increase in problem gambling”.
It would help fund “significant benefits” such as $2.3 million renovations, employ five extra staff and contribute $25,000 in extra community funds a year.
“While community attitudes is one of many factors that should be considered … the proposal would not introduce (electronic gaming machines) into an isolated community that is not already exposed to EGMs,” the council report stated.
“It is difficult for officers to conclude that the proposal would result in a net negative impact on the social and economic well-being of the community.”
Cr Susan Serey noted Casey’s own municipal health and well-being plan, which stated the importance of reducing access to electronic gambling.
Cr Gary Rowe, though supporting his colleagues’ motion, said the hotel operated in an ‘uncapped’ regional limit of 1017 machines. Currently there were only about 200 poker machines in that region.
At the meeting, objector Tom Cummings said he was “pleasantly surprised” that councillors overturned the report.
“This is what happens when the community actually has something to say and gets involved.”
Mr Cummings, a problem gambler and now director of Alliance of Gambling Reform, said it was a “significant step” by the council.
It would be noted by the deciding authority, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation, he said.
The VCGLR has yet to set a hearing date.