pokies threat to regional victoria

Victoria’s poker machines are moving to the country. VCGLR figures show that in the past two years, the number of poker machines in regional Victoria has grown by over 6%, compared to less than 0.5% for metropolitan Melbourne.

In other words: since July 2012, for every 1 new poker machine installed in the city, almost 5 were installed in the bush.

The catalyst for this migration was the changes to Victoria’s poker machine laws that came into effect in August 2012. From that date, poker machine venues and operators needed to purchase entitlements in order to keep running the poker machines they already had, and new limits were imposed that forced major players like Woolworths-owned ALH to shed hundreds of machines.

This triggered a shift in the distribution of Victoria’s poker machines as many venues and operators reduced the number of poker machines they operated, allowing other venues to expand and new operators to enter the market. And regional Victoria has been targeted as a prime expansion opportunity.

Key figures:

  • Overall number of poker machines in regional Victoria increased by 6.07%. The overall increase in poker machines in metropolitan Melbourne was 0.48%.
  • In actual terms, for every 1 poker machine introduced to metropolitan Melbourne, almost 5 (4.87) were introduced to regional Victoria.
  • 8 LGAs (local government areas) in regional Victoria increased their poker machine numbers by more than 10%. Only 1 LGA in metropolitan Melbourne increased their poker machine numbers by more than 10% (Wyndham).
  • When additional poker machines that have been VCGLR-approved but not yet installed are included, the number of LGAs in regional Victoria with increases greater than 10% rises from 8 to 10.
  • More than half (54.8%) of regional LGAs have increased their poker machine numbers during this period. Only 12.9% reduced their poker machine numbers.
  • In contrast, 45.1% of metropolitan LGAs increased the poker machine numbers, while 48.4% reduced their numbers.

The most-impacted regional LGAs are:

LGA EGMs – June 2012 EGMs – August 2014 Increase
Shire of Mansfield* 73 148 102.74%
Rural City of Wodonga 119 169 42.02%
Shire of Campaspe 167 209 25.15%
Shire of Mitchell 193 228 18.13%
Rural City of Benalla 90 105 16.67%
Shire of Glenelg 105 120 14.29%
Shire of Baw Baw 175 198 13.14%
City of Greater Bendigo 547 614 12.25%

When poker machines that have been approved but not yet installed are taken into account, Bendigo jumps to an increase of 19.56%, while two more LGAs, the Shire of Murrindindi* and the Rural City of Swan Hill, also exceed increases of 10% (11.86% and 11.59% respectively).

Increases of this magnitude can have an immediate detrimental impact on smaller, more distributed communities where the local pub or club may be the only entertainment option available. It continues the worrying trend of poker machine operators in Victoria looking for more profitable opportunities and locations to expand into.

Within metropolitan Melbourne, this has resulted in a shift of poker machines away from well-off areas and into more disadvantaged areas. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that outside the boundaries of metropolitan Melbourne, regional Victoria is also targeted.

This is all the more reason why local councils must have more power and more say in the approval process for new poker machines. The recently-launched Enough Pokies campaign, supported by the Municipal Association of Victoria and a number of church groups, has already gained the support of around 30 local councils, including many listed in this article. Hopefully they will also look at the increased shift of poker machines into regional areas and take that into account.

I’m a firm believer in giving local councils the power of veto over the introduction of new or additional poker machines within their boundaries. I’ve written a number of times about the bias of the VCGLR in favour of the poker machine industry, approving almost all applications for new poker machines despite strenuous council objections, and I’m on record as saying that our state and federal governments lack the will or the intention to make a difference.

Our communities, both regional and metropolitan, rely upon their local councils to serve them and stand up for them. It’s high time they were allowed to do so.

*note: the VCGLR combines some regional LGAs for reporting purposes. As a result, the Shire of Mansfield covers the Shires of Mansfield, Moira and Towong, while the Shire of Murrindindi covers the Shires of Murrindindi, Mount Alexander, Strathbogie and Gannawarra.

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