Council grants under fire

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By Luke Voogt

Two council grants to sporting clubs affiliated with gaming machine venues have come under fire from Ratepayers Geelong.

Ratepayers Geelong treasurer Jim Collins labelled the grants “hypocritical” given council’s tough stance on pokies.

“Ratepayers are rightly incensed that their money is being thrown away,” he said.

“We believe in supporting our clubs and our youth with good facilities.”

“But we don’t believe in throwing money at clubs that are already gaining significant money out of pokies. Other people deserve a fair bite at the cherry.”

Mr Collins took aim at a $350,000 grant for Lara Football Club to upgrade lighting at Lara Sporting Club.

Lara Sporting Club made $935,496 in pokie revenue from July to December in 2019, according to the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.

A $228,000 grant to Bell Park Cricket Club to upgrade training facilities also angered Ratepayers Geelong.

The affiliated Bell Park Sport and Recreation Club made $387,066 from pokies between July and December in 2019.

Under City Hall’s guidelines for its community infrastructure grants, facilities designated for pokies are not eligible.

The guidelines also state proposals where the recipient receives revenue from electronic gaming machines will be “given a lower priority”.

But Windermere ward councillor Anthony Aitken said council approved the grants based on the “very competitive” proposals’ benefit to the local community.

“Council doesn’t have a blanket ban on sporting clubs with pokies applying for grants.”

Lara Sporting Club’s pokies revenue did not translate into a “significant financial windfall”, he said.

“For many clubs this seems to be an albatross around their necks now,” Cr Aitken said.

“I’m not going to penalise a club for decisions that were made 30 years ago.

“These sporting clubs provide a far bigger benefit to the sporting community than any detriment associated with their gaming machines.”

Council has spent thousands of dollars on legal action opposing bids for more pokies at Geelong venues.

Last April council successfully challenged White Eagle House’s bid to double its pokies.

Council failed in legal bids to stop Geelong RSL installing an extra 30 pokies in 2018 and Clifton Springs Golf Club increasing its pokies by 10 this year.

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