One thing that has always puzzled me about pokies in Victoria is the idea of caps. Sure, as a concept it’s pretty simple; every pre-defined area has a cap on how many poker machines are allowed within that area’s boundaries. But once you start getting down to the level of municipal caps and regional caps… suddenly it’s not so clear.
The Victorian state government first introduced regional caps back in 2001, in response to runaway expansion in the pokies industry. Since then, the number of regional caps has grown from 5 (in 2001) to 20, and we now also have municipal caps. Both the regional and the municipal caps were last revised in late 2009. Let’s look at regional caps first.
As I said, there are 20 regional caps. Some of them cover entire municipalities (such as the cities of Ballarat and Darebin), while others cover only a portion of a municipality (such as the Casey and Hume regional caps). Regardless of how much area is covered, there is a limit on the number of poker machines that each regionally-capped area can have… but this limit varies from region to region.
Municipal caps were introduced in 2009. This is a separate set of limits on pokie numbers, based on existing municipality boundaries. Where a regional cap covers an entire municipality, there is no municipal cap… because there’s no need. That’s why Ballarat and Darebin (as per above) have no municipal caps. But where a regional cap covers only part of a municipality, then the rest of the municipality is covered by the municipal cap.
Confused yet? This is far more complex than it needs to be, in classic government style.
Let’s take a look at the City of Hume, and see if we can clear things up.
This map shows the City of Hume, with the regional cap portion blocked out in red. Not very big, is it?
Hume has a regional cap of 435, and a municipal cap of 725. What this means is that the area blocked out in red, which includes suburbs such as Broadmeadows, Westmeadows and Tullamarine, can have no more than 435 pokies. The rest of Hume is not covered by this regional cap and so the municipal cap applies, meaning that another 725 pokies are allowed in the rest of Hume.
Yes, that means that the total cap for the entire City of Hume is 1160 pokies.
It’s pretty obvious that developers have taken notice of this “interesting” arrangement of caps. How else do you explain six separate gaming venues in Sunbury alone? Or the recent expansion of pokies into Craigieburn? Both areas outside the regional cap. And spending on pokies across the City of Hume is quite high, certainly higher than average on a per-person basis. The system, as it stands, doesn’t work. And it’s worth noting that the regionally capped area is pretty much at its limit already… so it’s no surprise to see a number of venues located just outside the regional boundaries.
It’s obvious that the concept of regional caps is outdated and needs serious rework. I personally favour a municipality-wide cap system, broken up into sub-divisions (like electoral wards, for example), each with their own sub-cap. This would be of enormous benefit to some existing municipalities… and over the next couple of weeks I’ll cover a number of those, starting with my own City of Casey.