BALLARAT City Council should reject all poker machine applications despite the fear of costly legal challenges, a University of Ballarat gambling researcher has said.
Professor John McDonald, of the university’s School of Education and Arts, said the tough stance would send a strong message to other applicants.
“It is a costly exercise for council,” Professor McDonald said.
“Then there is the cumulative cost to families of allowing the extra poker machines.”
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) recently overturned a Ballarat City Council decision to reject nine Red Lion Hotel electronic gaming machines (EGM).
The council is also set to consider an application for 30 poker machines at Oscar’s Hotel at its Doveton Street South venue.
If approved, it will take Ballarat to 655 electronic gaming machines, which is only nine short of the 663 cap.
Professor McDonald said the council should conduct a survey to record community feelings about the poker machines. “The thing that would carry weight is a community survey that indicates that local people believe that they would be harmed as a result of the introduction of poker machines,” he said.
“There is precedent in the 2008 Romsey case (in the Macedon Ranges) which saw the Supreme Court overturn a VCAT ruling (approving gaming machines) because the local community believed that installation of poker machines would harm their quality of life.”
According to figures from the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation, punters have put more than $37.87 million into the city’s 616 poker machines in the 2011-12 financial year, which is well on its way to beating the 2010-11 total of $55.6 million.
However, Councillor Des Hudson said the council had to consider its financial responsibility towards the ratepayers before making any decisions on entering costly challenges.
“The council is being financially responsible in not fighting cases that we could almost guarantee are not going to be won,” Cr Hudson said.
“We are better off to abide by the principals of our community gaming policy ... of not placing the poker machines in disadvantaged communities but in and around the CBD.”
Cr Hudson said a community survey may be one of the tools to be considered by the new council when it renews the current gaming policy.