Councillors' worries over gambling: Wangaratta RSL’s pokies expansion is not a winner

DISAPPOINTED: Only Crs Dean Rees (pictured) and Dave Fuller voted to support the RSL's plan after its former treasurer, mayor Ken Clarke, was excluded with a conflict.
DISAPPOINTED: Only Crs Dean Rees (pictured) and Dave Fuller voted to support the RSL's plan after its former treasurer, mayor Ken Clarke, was excluded with a conflict.

An application for an extra 18 pokie machines for the Wangaratta RSL will not be supported by the council, despite the argument the revenue is needed to help ex-servicemen.

The RSL was in the process of moving location to the old Sydney Hotel and wanted to increase its number of pokie machines from the 32 at its old building, up to 50.

Councillors on Tuesday voted 3-2 against the plan.

Extra machines would have made the RSL the biggest pokie venue in Wangaratta and take the city to a total of 154 machines, below the allowed limit of 214.

Council staff opposed the machines, saying extra pokies could “increase the risk of gambling related harms within the community” and lead to domestic violence.

PLANS AT RISK: RSL sub-branch president Ash Power at last month's Anzac Day service.

PLANS AT RISK: RSL sub-branch president Ash Power at last month's Anzac Day service.

RSL sub-branch president Ash Power pleaded with councillors for their support.

“We take the responsibility we have with having a licence to have gaming machines extremely seriously,” he said.

Increased revenue at the new Ovens River location, including pokies as one element, was expected to allow the RSL to hire one extra full-time employee and five casuals in the sub-branch and an extra seven staff in the bistro.

“It will be a great downside for the community because what we intend on building is a great community asset,” General Power said. “We’ve always preceded with the understanding we’d get extra gaming machines because, quite simply, if we only had 32 we could not sustain what we’re going to do – and in fact we won’t do it.”

Cr Dean Rees voted in favour of extra machines and called out the other councillors who claimed to be “pro-development” but did not support the RSL.

“This to me is good business economic sense for the development of Wangaratta,” he said. “Money that gambling machines raise through the RSL is also to support the community as well as our ex-soldiers, our servicemen and their families.”

But Cr Ruth Amery said his argument, and suggestion to spend money on addressing gambling issues rather than preventing them in the first place by stopping extra machines, was “abhorrent”.

“Gambling is known to have profound impacts on a community and the lives of many families and individuals,” she said.

The final decision will be made by the Victorian Commission for Gaming and Liquor Regulation.