BALLARAT’S central business district, including the Bridge Mall and Sturt Street, will be opened up to poker machine venues under a proposed amendment to Ballarat City Council’s gaming policy.
The council is seeking to exempt Ballarat’s CBD from planning legislation that prohibits poker machines in areas defined as “strip shopping centres” – in which a significant proportion of the premises are shops.
The Bridge Mall and Sturt Street, but not Central Square, would be affected by the amendment.
The move by the council would further cement its CBD focus for new gaming machine applications.
It comes after the council voted to approve 30 machines at Oscar’s Hotel in Doveton Street North. An appeal against the decision was lodged with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
City of Ballarat People and Communities Councillor Des Hudson said if Ballarat had to accommodate the machines, their placement should aim to minimise harm to vulnerable members of the community.
He said the council had last year sought to reduce Ballarat’s cap on poker machines.
But the state government had indicated it was comfortable with the current cap of 666 machines.
Cr Hudson said the amendment would help the council to decide how new applications were determined, but it would not make all CBD proposals a “fait accompli”.
Nor could any vacant shop in the CBD be converted into a pokies venue without passing a series of controls.
“It’s placing gaming machines away from the local neighbourhoods where a vulnerable person may be able to go around the block to access gaming machines,” he said.
“The issue we have is the definition of strip shopping. It could include anywhere where there are two shops or more.”
University of Ballarat gambling researcher Deborah Greenslade feared clusters of poker machines in the CBD would expose even more people to pokies and promote more spontaneous decisions to gamble.
She said the proposal removed a planning safeguard given to the council by the state government.
“It means the City of Ballarat will have almost no way of saying ‘no’ to an application in the CBD,” Ms Greenslade said.
“To the best of my knowledge no other council in Victoria has ever sought to exempt areas from the protection.”
Bridge Mall Traders Association president David Maloney said he was seeking more information on the proposal and what it would mean for retailers.
“I’ve gone back to a councillor to enquire how they’re proposing to keep the integrity of the Bridge Mall shopping centre and the other shopping centres in Ballarat,” he said.
The proposal is open for public submissions until March 25.