Ballarat pokies spend to continue after licence extensions

Ballarat gaming reform advocates are warning the municipality can expect to continue to lose more than $50 million a year on pokies for the next two decades after the state government passed legislation doubling gaming licenses. 

The legislation which passed through parliament on Thursday will see the number of machines in Ballarat remain capped at 663, however licence lengths will be doubled from 10 to 20 years when they are renewed in 2022. 

Despite a push from the entire upper house cross bench for a three month committee inquiry, the legislation breezed through with the support of both major parties.

MPs such as The Reason Party’s Fiona Patton had been calling for amendments such as $200 maximum eftpos withdrawals and $1 maximum bets, but the bill passed unchanged. 

Ballarat Gambling Action Group member Deb Greenslade said the government’s decision to pass the legislation without conducting a formal inquiry meant Ballarat gambling losses could continue uninterrupted “for the next 20 years”. 

Deb Greenslade (left) with Katherine Gillespie, Tanya Cullen and Louise Feery of Ballarat Action on Gambling Harm. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Deb Greenslade (left) with Katherine Gillespie, Tanya Cullen and Louise Feery of Ballarat Action on Gambling Harm. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

“It’s very disappointing because really the renewal of licenses which didn't have to happen for another five years was a golden opportunity to deliver some major changes,” Ms Greenslade said.  “The government are addicted to gambling because there’s so much taxation revenue and they’re not interested in doing anything meaningful to address the problem.” 

Figures released in October showed more than $54 million was tipped into Ballarat slots across the 2016/17 financial year, a figures which equates to more than $105,000 spent a week. 

While a $500 eftpos withdrawal cap within a 24-hour period is set to come into effect through the legislation, Ms Greenslade said this was still far too high to provide any meaningful assistance to problem gamblers.

Buninyong MP Geoff Howard was among those to praise the bill when it was presented to the lower house in late October, saying in parliament “we know these gaming machines have now become a part of social activities across cities such as Ballarat”. 

He said a parliamentary review wasn’t necessary as the government already had checks and balances in place and the legislation was about providing certainty to pubs and clubs.  “We’e accepting as a government poker machines are here to stay and it’s a matter of regulating them properly.”