ANTI-POKER MACHINE campaigners have condemned a Ballarat City Council decision to allow 30 new electronic gaming machines to be installed at Oscars Hotel in Doveton Street South.
A lengthy debate at last night’s council meeting resulted in a 8-1 vote in favour of the plan, which will see the machines moved from elsewhere in the Ballarat region to a function room in the south-eastern portion of the hotel.
The only vote against the proposal came from Councillor Samantha McIntosh.
University of Ballarat gambling researcher Professor John McDonald told the meeting that poker machines had already inflicted massive economic and social harm on Ballarat.
He later criticised the decision to allow the machines to be installed and said councillors had failed in their duty to act in the best interests of the community.
Professor McDonald said councillors had received poor advice on aspects of the proposal, including whether the Doveton Street precinct should be considered a “strip shopping centre” where poker machines are prohibited.
“If the first block of Doveton Street South does not have a significant proportion of shops – Harris Scarfe, New Generation, Elysium, Nova Pharmacy, Taylor and Stirling, Target, the Block Arcade, Bendigo Bank – where does?”
“By asserting during the meeting that the CBD should be excluded from the definition of strip shopping, council leaves itself open to charges of making policy on the run to suit certain interests,” he said.
Professor McDonald said councillors had incorrectly interpreted a Victorian government cap on poker machines and that the city had spent $222 million on poker machines in the past four years.
Researcher Deborah Greenslade said the cap of 663 was not the mandated number of poker machines the community must have
“I found it unbelievable that the councillors simultaneously patted themselves on the back for making a difficult decision and then voted 8-1 in favour of the venue application,” she said.
“The assertion by multiple councillors that they are just trying to find the least harmful home for 663 poker machines that the state government has ‘imposed’ on them is utterly false.”
Oscars Hotel proprietor Danny Quinlan told the meeting that the venue was not a “typical hotel” and would introduce a self-exclusion program for problem gamblers.