Council wants a cap on CBD pokies

The City of Melbourne has resolved to lobby the State Government to apply a cap on the number of poker machines in the CBD, Docklands and Southbank.

These three areas were deliberately excluded from a statewide limit of 10 machines per 1000 residents in 2001.

But councillors now believe booming populations in the urban renewal areas warrant a status similar to other residential areas.

Speaking at the October 17 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, planning chair Nicholas Reece said: “At the time it made sense because there were very few people living in those areas.”

“It is a quirk of the gaming regulatory arrangements in this state that those areas are the only geographic areas in Victoria which are not subject to a regional cap of 10 machines per 1000,” he said.

“Such a measure would be an insurance policy against future growth of machine numbers.”

Councillors were discussing a motion to recommend a planning scheme amendment to the state government, but there was frustration expressed about their limited powers over poker machine numbers and placement.

Amendment C307 deals with minor matters such has visibility of machines from the street and internal layout of venues, leaving the council to concentrate on harm minimisation.

Cr Reece said: “These are very common sense proposals that involve improvements to venue design.”

“All of this will help us achieve what is the ultimate goal here which is minimising harm that occurs to our community.”

A report commissioned by the council found that in 2015-16, $68,834,612.11 was spent on poker machines at the CBD’s 10 pokies venues.

Venues within the CBD are more than twice as profitable as venues in the rest of the municipality (excluding Crown Casino) with Hoddle Grid venues averaging $7.6 million pokies expenditure and venues outside the city averaging $3.6 million.

The report shows that poker machines in Mercure Grand Hotel On Swanston are the most successful in the CBD, with an average take of $163,983.69 per machine in 2015-16.  Venues with other high earning machines are Golden Nugget who’s 60 machines averaged an annual take of $148,517.64 and Welcome Stranger where the average earn from each of 100 machines was $148,117.51.

In terms of highest expenditure, Welcome Stranger tops the table with $14.81 million, followed by Mercure Grand Hotel ($14.75 million), Clocks at Flinders St ($9.76 million) and Golden Nugget ($8.91 million).

Councillors lamented their inability to battle further against poker machines.

Cr Rohan Leppert said: “Of course I’d like to go a whole lot further. Of course I’d like to have the power to disallow new electronic gaming machines in the City of Melbourne.  We do not have that power.”

Cr Jackie Watts advised of an anti-gambling rally on the steps of State Parliament between 10 and 11am on October 31.

She said: “We need to stand up. I think it’s a great pity that we can’t extend our condemnation of this ‘quote/unquote’ entertainment to include the Crown Casino.”

Cr Nic Francis Gilley accused the state government and clubs of being addicted to gambling revenue.

“The addiction here is the State Government being addicted to the revenues, the addiction of organisations like the RSL which always worries me because it is their members they are robbing, and the addiction of pubs who milk their customers.”

“What’s really pernicious about that is that we then have a state government who names it ‘responsible gambling’.  There is no such thing.”

But councillors stopped short of separately criticising the state government’s plan to renew pokie licences.

Former councillor and anti-gambling advocate Stephen Mayne advised at the meeting: “The bigger picture here is that we are in the fight of our lives against legislation that’s going to lock in $70 billion worth of losses.”

“Ultimately, it is politicians who have allowed this highly permissive regulatory arrangement.  And they’re proposing that it be thrown forward another 20 years until 2042.”

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