Anti-pokies push gathers pace

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A CALL for councils to financially back a campaign against problem gambling has been knocked back by Frankston Council as other south-east councils join the fight against pokies draining money from communities.

Kingston councillors last month decided to pay $25,000 to become a “tier one” Alliance for Gambling Reform partner while Frankston Council remains “a supporter” without contributing ratepayers’ money to the cause.

The alliance is lobbying both sides of politics in the lead-up to next year’s state election to act on pokies reform to stem rising losses on the gaming machines.

Alliance spokesman Stephen Mayne said he understood Frankston Council officers had discussed the request to be an alliance partner with councillors but this had been “declined”.

He said the group is grateful for any support in its “The Pokies Play You” campaign.

“We’ve only got ten councils who’ve paid the full $25,000 – it’s a fair whack. Anyone who joins is a bonus.”

Frankston Council is listed on the group’s website as an alliance “supporter” meaning council supports the alliance’s cause in principle.

Discussions are ongoing with Mornington Peninsula Shire.

“Fingers crossed they will step up and join the campaign,” Mr Mayne said.

Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) figures show $62.9 million was lost by Frankston punters on pokies in the 2015-16 financial year and $57.4 million in 2016-17 with June’s losses still to be collated by the gaming authority.

Mornington Peninsula Shire losses totalled just under $82.4 million in 2015-16 and about $76.1 million in 2016-17 with June’s losses to be added to the total.

Kingston municipality pokies losses totalled about $83.5 million in 2015-16 and $76.1 million in 2016-17 excluding June losses.

Mr Mayne acknowledged “it is a bit of a step up” for councils to financially back the campaign although Knox had also recently joined Kingston in putting money into combating problem gambling.

The former City of Melbourne councillor and founder of the Crikey online news site said the Alliance for Gambling Reform offers help to council partners opposing planning applications for venues to install more pokies machines.

He said Whittlesea Council, for example, are currently opposing such an application at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal  (VCAT) and “we’re in there too” helping council officers work on the details of opposing more pokies in the municipality.

Frankston Council rejected an application for ten more gaming machines at the Langwarrin Hotel last year but the VCGLR and VCAT subsequently overruled council and allowed the extra pokies to be installed.

The application by the hotel attracted nationwide media coverage, after first being reported in The Times, since an upgrade to a children’s playground at the Langwarrin Hotel was controversially deemed “a social benefit” to be taken into consideration when approving more pokies machines at the venue.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform has written to all state MPs to urge politicians to stop pokies “ripping off people in the community”.

First published in the Frankston Times – 10 July 2017

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