On 29 May 2017, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation heard an application from Wangaratta RSL Sub-Branch Inc for approval of new premises (the Sydney Hotel) in the Rural City of Wangaratta as suitable for gaming with 50 pokies.
The Rural City of Wangaratta supported the relocation of the existing 32 pokies from the current Wangaratta RSL clubrooms to the new premises at the Sydney Hotel, but did not support the increase in pokies numbers from 32 to 50. The Rural City of Wangaratta appeared at the hearing.
On 12 July 2017, the commission granted the application.
The commission found there was likely to be a small net positive social and economic impact on the wellbeing of the Wangaratta community if the application was approved, and hence the 'no net detriment' test was met.
The commission's approval is subject to the following conditions:
- Wangaratta RSL must make annual community contributions of $25,000
- the contributions must be allocated to local community groups primarily providing problem gambling and family violence services and facilities to residents of Wangaratta
- the contributions must be distributed directly to local community organisations as agreed between Wangaratta RSL and Council representatives
- in the absence of agreement, the contributions must be transferred to Council for allocation.
In making this determination, the commission weighed the following economic impact benefits and disbenefits.
Gaming expenditure not associated with problem gambling was given marginal weight.Expenditure on capital works was given marginal weight.Employment creation was given low weight.Community contributions was given marginal weight.Increased gaming competition in the Rural City of Wangaratta was given marginal weight.
- The portion of new gaming expenditure not associated with problem gambling is an economic benefit. The commission considered that while the catchment area of the new premises exhibited slightly higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage compared to Rural City of Wangaratta as a whole, the indicators of vulnerability to problem gambling were broadly similar to the state averages. There was also evidence that 90 per cent of gaming expenditure would be transferred expenditure from other pokies venues in Wangaratta.
- Renovations of $1.5 million to the new venue will include an upgrade of the heritage facade, and the creation of a bistro, cafe, function room, alfresco dining area and gaming room. However, there was some uncertainty as to how much of this expenditure would be retained in Wangaratta.
- Nine jobs (a mixture of full-time, part-time and casual) will be created across the venue, although some of this is likely to be transferred employment from nearby gaming and hospitality venues. The commission considered the additional employment is a positive economic impact but somewhat uncertain.
- The proposed community contributions represent an increase of $25,000 each year, and are in addition to Wangaratta RSL employing a dedicated welfare officer on a part-time basis. These contributions, to be distributed to local community groups primarily providing problem gambling and family violence services and facilities to residents of Wangaratta, will have a positive economic impact on community groups operating in Wangaratta.
- Providing patrons with an additional 18 pokies at a more attractive venue will increase gaming competition in Wangaratta. However, the commission considered the benefit was limited as an additional venue will not be created and the increase in the total number of pokies in Wangaratta is small.
Gambling expenditure associated with problem gambling was given low weight.
- The portion of new expenditure attributable to problem gambling is an economic disbenefit. The commission considered that while the catchment area of the new premises exhibited slightly higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage compared to Rural City of Wangaratta as a whole, the indicators of vulnerability to problem gambling were broadly similar to the state averages. The relocation of the Wangaratta RSL clubrooms from the strip-shopping urban centre of Wangaratta to the Sydney Hotel on the outskirts of the CBD was considered a significant benefit, as was the substantial improvement to the layout of the gaming room and its relative position to non-gaming offerings at the venue. In addition, Wangaratta RSL is an experienced pokies operator with robust responsible service of gaming practices, and a strong recognition at board level of its responsibilities in operating pokies.
Diversion of trade from other gaming venues was given marginal weight.
- The anticipated transfer rate of 90 per cent is expected to be spread across the other three existing pokies venues in Wangaratta. Each venue is expected to experience a reduction of 10–12 per cent of current pokies revenue. Concerns of the Wangaratta Club as to its financial viability were based on the mistaken belief that the majority of transferred expenditure would be derived from its pokies venue.
In making the determination, the commission weighed the following social impact benefits and disbenefits.
Improved facilities was given moderate weight.Increased gaming opportunities for those who enjoy gaming was given no to marginal weight.Social benefit derived from increased community contributions was given low weight.
- The proposed redevelopment to improve facilities at the venue will enable a greater range of services to be provided. The new venue will improve accessibility to current and future members, and will provide an ability to grow the membership base of Wangaratta RSL. The relocation and improvement to the Sydney Hotel is consistent with the Council's Masterplan to enhance the riverside precinct and increase its tourism focus.
- While the additional 18 pokies will better serve the needs of gaming patrons at the venue, the benefit will be limited due to the small number of additional pokies in the whole of Wangaratta.
- The commission considered the additional $25,000 in community contributions, and the impact on local community organisations, will be a social benefit.
The possibility of an increased incidence and impact of problem gambling on the community was given low weight.Community attitude was given marginal weight.
- A proportion of total gaming expenditure at the venue will be associated with problem gambling contributed by a small proportion of total gaming patrons. Adverse impacts include health, jobs, finances, emotional states and relationships. The commission considered that while the catchment area of the new premises exhibited slightly higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage compared to Rural City of Wangaratta as a whole, the indicators of vulnerability to problem gambling were broadly similar to the state averages. Balanced against this, there will be a significant benefit from the relocation of the Wangaratta RSL clubrooms from within the strip-shopping urban centre of Wangaratta to the Sydney Hotel on the outskirts of the CBD, as well as substantial improvement to the layout of the gaming room and its relative position to non-gaming offerings. While Wangaratta has fluctuating family violence statistics, with an above average increase in family violence incidents between 2015 and 2016, there is a lack of evidence of family violence being caused by pokies density.
- A small number of individuals submitted opposition to the application and raised concerns with impacts of more pokies, such as gambling problems faced by the community. There was also some general media reporting and an increase in membership of the Wangaratta RSL, which provided limited evidence of community support. The commission found that while Council's opposition to the application was a relevant factor, overall evidence indicated that general community attitude was mixed.