No to more pokies

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Cardinia Shire Council has rejected an application requesting the introduction of 22 additional pokie machines to the shire.

The application sparked an hour-long debate among councillors at the last council meeting concerning the perceived effects of electronic gaming machines (EGMs) – more commonly known as pokie machines – on vulnerable Cardinia families.

Cr Tania Baxter was one of the councillors who supported the office recommendation that additional EGMs would “expose a vulnerable community to risk associated with problem gambling”.

Cr Baxter said the Pakenham Racing Club had asked for a permit of 60 EGMs in 2013 for their new club Officer venue, which would include 38 machines to be moved from the Pakenham Sports Club and 22 machines from the Cardinia Club.

She said this permit had been granted on the condition that no new pokie machines would be entering the shire.

But the application brought before council proposed for another 22 EGMs to be added to Cardinia Club to replace those that had been moved.

The application proposed to increase the club’s community contribution figure from $75,000 to $150,000 but this offering was not found to justify increasing the number of pokie machines.

“The Cardinia Club is in one of the most vulnerable areas in our shire,” Cr Baxter said.

“The application was originally granted with the intent that no extra machines would be coming in to the shire, only moved from their other venues. Their proposal would have been a reversal of that.

“A decision like this would set precedent and could open the door to other applications. You need to draw the line somewhere.”

If successful, the application would have led to a total of 165 EGMs from the current 143.

“The State Government changed its taxation laws based on the number of EGMs venues have and it’s better for them for tax reasons. But the council is not in the business of making calls on tax breaks for private businesses,” Cr Baxter said.

“In the last financial year, the shire’s expenditure on EGMs was $23 million and, at this stage in the year, it’s up $2 million on last year’s figures.”

Councillors George Blenkhorn and Graeme Moore supported the application.

“Cardinia Club had 105 machines for a very long time, and have a history of good management,” Cr Blenkhorn said.

“It’s a matter of balancing the needs of the majority who enjoy using EGMs and the small minority addicted to them.

“I think they have a very strong case to increase the number of EGMs. But I can’t justify the cost to council in taking the matter to VCAT which would be in excess of $20,000.”

Pakenham Racing Club chief executive Michael Hodge said Cardinia Club, which had operated with 105 pokie machines for over a decade, is currently operating with 83.

“The committee will meet and consider its options in relation to the decision,” Mr Hodge said.

Pakenham Racing Club said they would not provide further comment on this matter.

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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