By Medha Vernekar
The City of Melbourne wants venues with existing poker machine entitlements to voluntarily apply for a significantly lower number when renewing licences with the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) for 20 years from 2022 to 2042.
Speaking at the February 6 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, Cr Rohan Leppert criticised the state government for its handling of the issue of pokie licence renewals: “The state government is quite keen to get the deposits for these licence extensions here and now.”
“It’s also a political issue for the state government by taking this issue off the table as early before the state election as possible whilst not burdening the next couple of terms of parliament with the reopening of this question.”
In light of the upcoming February 28 deadline for renewing licences for pokie entitlements, the council resolved to publicly write to all venues (excluding Crown Casino) with a licence to operate poker machines—including all AFL clubs that operate venues with poker machines—based in the municipality to respond to the council’s policy.
Based on the responses, the council will be making a media statement by mid-March acknowledging the venues that apply for lower entitlements and listing the expenditure data for those that do not.
The council also intends to communicate the current state of poker machine entitlements as well as discuss the negative impacts of gambling on the municipality.
The successful motion also requested that the CEO appeal to all parties concerned in the Legislative Assembly to make election commitments in relation to the council’s position on poker machines prior to the 2018 state election.
The second part of the motion reiterates the position of the council, as resolved at a meeting on October 17 last year, to bring the central city (currently the only part of the state without a cap) into the municipal cap on the number of poker machines.
Acting Lord Mayor Cr Arron Wood commended the motion brought by Cr Leppert and said: “We know the harm that problem gambling does to the people that have the issue but also to the families around them. So the links to family violence are quite clear.”
Cr Le Liu hoped businesses follow suit with the council’s request but voiced concerns about pressuring them with the new policy.
“While I am supportive of Cr Leppert’s (motion), I do note the stick we are hitting the businesses with. I’m not very into the forcing of a business, especially something that is at the heart of the city,” he said.
Cr Frances Gilley noted the valuable work of the Alliance for Gambling Reform in reminding the damage problem gambling does to a community and condemned the state government for profiting out of poker machines.
“We are raising these funds from the poorest part of people using machines that are addictive – like being alcoholic, where you actually have absolutely no control.”
Cr Leppert closed off by acknowledging the work of the Alliance for Gambling Reform and hoped to reinforce the council’s commitment to working towards eliminating problem gambling through the media statement in March.
The motion was carried unanimously.