Council budgets $30,000 to fight Polish pokies

Cr Sarah Mansfield

Councillors have budged $30,000 for lawyers and an “independent expert” to fight a community association’s bid for more pokies at its Breakwater venue.

Council will take on the Polish Association in Geelong, citing a higher-than-average density of pokies in “areas of disadvantage” around White Eagle House.

But the association says doubling the venue’s pokies from 35 to 78 could boost the association’s “precarious” finances, which threaten the future of White Eagle House.

Councillors voted 7-4 this week in favour of spending up to $30,000 fighting the association’s bid despite recently losing thousands on a similar battle with Geelong RSL.

Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) approved the RSL’s application for 30 extra pokies in December despite council committing lawyers and “in-house” representation to the fight.

Councillors who backed the latest battle believed that adding the independent expert could be the key to winning this time.

“If we analyse recent decisions at the VCGLR, the best chance we have of success is to have legal representation and an independent expert to present the strongest case possible,” Cr Sarah Mansfield said.

She opposed the application despite acknowledging the association’s “good work”.

“The density of EGMs (electronic gaming machines) in this area is very high already, and this application seeks to increase that density even further.

“There’s a large body of evidence that says more machines is linked to more problem gambling. Studies have shown that areas with greater numbers of EGMs have higher numbers of help-seeking by problem gamblers.

“An argument often made in support of pokies is that a portion of the revenues are put back into the community. But the issue is where the money’s coming from, and that is what I simply can’t support (the application).

“The overall harm to the community from problem gambling to me far outweighs any benefit.”

The association’s application suggested that White Eagle House’s future and proposed upgrades to adjacent Breakwater Eagles Soccer Club facilities were dependent on the extra pokies revenue.

“The buildings at Fellmongers Rd are deteriorating and sorely in need of expensive upgrading and refurbishment,” the application said.

“If these works are delayed much longer the disrepair of the building, plant and equipment will be beyond the means of the club to redress.

“The soccer facilities are sub-standard and are also in need of urgent attention.”

The application also cited “stiff competition” from other gaming venues, including AFL-aligned Buckley’s 600 metres away, and the association’s 2016 sale of a central Geelong property “to avoid insolvency”.

The VGLR will hear the application and the council’s opposition on 26 February.

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