THE LANGWARRIN Hotel has cleared the final hurdle to install 10 more poker machines at its Cranbourne-Frankston Rd premises.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) last month decided to overrule Frankston Council’s refusal of a planning permit to increase the number of pokies at the Langwarrin Hotel from 52 to 62 after the venue operator appealed council’s decision.
The hotel’s bid for more pokies made national headlines after The Times first revealed the hotel operator Beretta’s linked the installation of the electronic gaming machines to planned upgrades to a children’s play area at the venue (“Kid’s play cover a win for pokies”, The Times 18/4/16).
Hotel general manager Peter Beretta said in a written application submission to the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) that a planned upgrade of an existing children’s play area at the pub would be scaled back and unroofed “if approval for these additional gaming machines is not obtained”.
The VCGLR decided a weatherproof playground for children was “a social benefit” as part of its decision to approve the additional pokies.
VCAT panel members Philip Martin and Tracy Watson last month also agreed the upgraded children’s play area is a community benefit when approving the application despite gambling researchers’ concerns about playgrounds being linked to applications for pokies.
“While not a determinative factor in itself, we accept it is a positive aspect of the proposal in terms of ‘net community benefit’ that the proposal includes $700,000 of works to enclose the updated children’s playground,” the VCAT ruling dated 24 August stated.
“This will enable the playground to operate on a year-round indoor basis. We were told this playground already is and will remain properly managed and the operator will ensure the relevant parents do not ‘disappear to the gaming room’.
“Within these appropriate parameters, we expect there will be many parents living in Langwarrin with young children where this year-round indoor aspect of the intended upgraded playground will provide some valued ‘time-out’.”
The VCAT panel noted “there is a high level of demand” to play the existing 52 pokies at the Langwarrin Hotel and the ten extra machines “would ease this pressure”.
“Certainly there was a relatively high level of usage of the existing EGMs when we inspected the subject gaming room.”
Annual expenditure at the venue is predicted to rise by $465,879 annually after the 10 pokies machines are in place, according to figures provided to the VCGLR when Beretta’s made its application bring in 10 more machines.
Pokies players lost nearly $7.7 million playing the 52 machines at the Langwarrin Hotel in the 2015-16 financial year.
VCAT panel members cited a previous ruling on pokies at the Royal Benalla Hotel where it was determined “problem gambling is a phenomenon that cannot be accurately measured and, even if it could, its consequences are impalpable and difficult to subject to a purely economic analysis”.
The VCAT panel acknowledged Beretta’s will donate $10,000 annually to the Theodora House charity that provides food parcels and help to Langwarrin people in need when the extra pokies machines are installed “in addition to the $80,000 annual donation which the operator is already making under the existing approval regime for the existing 52 EGMs.”
VCAT cited Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas figures classing Langwarrin as “in the 25 per cent least disadvantaged postcode areas in Victoria” as a factor in setting aside Frankston Council’s rejection of the planning permit.
The panel also noted three full-time jobs at the pub will be created when the pokies are in place.
Beretta’s is currently seeking applicants for a ‘Gaming Graveyard Supervisor’ job at the Langwarrin Hotel.
Council pushed at VCAT for the children’s play area to be roofed and weatherproofed within two years, Beretta’s wanted four years to complete the $700,000 worth of works and the VCAT panel settled on a deadline of three years to enclose the play area.
Frankston Council said it selected its legal representation at VCAT based on its “case on the strong planning position expressed in council’s planning permit refusal decision and on the lack of any satisfactory evidence on social impact supplied by the proponent”.
“The compromise of a three-year deadline for the hotel upgrades is a very small concession to council’s concerns, however the VCAT decision overall is disappointing,” Council CEO Dennis Hovenden said.
“We are concerned about the message this sends to local families and the long-lasting impact that gaming has on one of the most vulnerable communities in Victoria.”
Beretta’s and the VCGLR have previously refused to respond to all media questions about the Langwarrin Hotel pokies application.
Labor Gaming and Liquor Regulation Minister Jane Garrett, now a backbench MP, merely said in May that “this was a decision made by the independent regulator” and any questions to the state government were referred to the government-appointed VCGLR who refuse to comment.
Current Gaming Minister Marlene Kairouz has been contacted for comment.
This article was updated on 19 September to include a response from Frankston Council about VCAT’s decision to set aside council’s planning permit refusal.