Victorian councils meet to discuss poker machine laws

 10 April 2014

Victorian councils meet to discuss Victoria's impotent and biased poker machine laws

Mayors, councillors and staff from 14 councils met yesterday to discuss how to tackle Victoria's uneven playing field for the assessment of Electronic Gaming Machine applications in local communities.

Monash Mayor Geoff Lake convened the gaming roundtable. He said Monash felt compelled to act after its recent experience of opposing an application from a Clayton hotel to increase its number of poker machines by 25% in the heart of Clayton.

Monash opposed the application from L'unico Hotel for several reasons including that Clayton already had a high density of poker machines per adults (nearly twice the Victorian average). The hotel's application was approved by both the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation and, following Council's appeal, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on the basis that they found there would be 'no net detriment' to the wellness of the community.

"Like many decisions made at the Commission and then rubber stamped at VCAT, this decision was ludicrously based on the proposition that a private operator through expanding their licensed premises provides such a benefit to a local community that it outweighs the various accepted detrimental impacts of extra machines in a community," Cr Lake said.

"This is extremely out of touch. We feel the cards are stacked heavily in favour of gaming operators and that the concerns raised by councils and their communities are too easily dismissed ," he said.

"The statistics tell the story. Last year there were 27 applications to increase or install poker machines in various communities across Victoria. Of these, only two applications were refused due to concerns raised by local communities."

Yesterday's forum brought together a large group of councils from across Victoria to consider changes to the current laws. Amongst other changes, councils unanimously agreed to press for the following reforms:

1. Shift the burden from councils to applicants: Applicants should have to provide more compelling and conclusive evidence that there will not be a net detriment to the community with the introduction of additional EGMs into a locality or particular venue.

  1. Overhaul the way 'net benefit/net detriment' is considered: New guidelines need to be developed to provide an effective and common sense definition of what constitutes a 'net benefit' or 'net detriment'
  2. Overhaul the way 'net benefit/net detriment' is considered: New guidelines need to be developed to provide an effective and common sense definition of what constitutes a 'net benefit' or 'net detriment' in relation to an application and how this should be considered. In particular, expanded floor space for a hotel should not objectively be assessed as constituting such a benefit for a local community that it outweighs the accepted and empirically proven economic loss that would be brought by EGMs into a disadvantaged area. The obvious value judgments implicit in such an approach (and as has been regularly applied by the Commission previously) is not consistent with an even playing field or with community expectations.
  3. Reduce EGM caps in disadvantaged areas: Action is needed to address the alarming increasing density and concentration of EGMs in disadvantaged communities. Caps should be introduced to limit the number of EGMs within a suburb of below average Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA)score to be equal to or less than the state-wide average of EGMs per 1,000 of the adult population.

Cr Lake said the roundtable would add further momentum to the growing call for gaming system reform in Victoria. Councils in attendance agreed to take these reforms to next month's meeting of the State Council of the Municipal Association of Victoria and to meet again to progress these changes further.

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