Council backs pokies fight

Romsey residents do not support an application for 50 electronic gaming machines at Romsey Hotel.

Romsey residents have spoken: a majority do not support an application for 50 electronic gaming machines at Romsey Hotel.


Last week, Macedon Ranges Shire Council confirmed it would again fight pokies plans for the venue based on net detriment to the community.


Cr Geoff Neil said the move spoke volumes and was “supportive of the Romsey community in its opposition to the application”.


A Romsey township survey and a comprehensive Social and Economic Impact Assessment were pivotal in the council’s decision-making.


The survey found 60.36 per cent of respondents (of 4027 surveys) believed the proposed 50 EGMs would have a negative impact on the broader community. Further, 59.93 per cent of respondents did not support the application.


According to the SEIA, the proposal would have a negative impact with a net detriment of 0.66 on the wellbeing of the community under the ‘no net detriment test’.


Incremental impact of social and economic benefits and detriments over a 20-year evaluation period determined a likely net cost of about negative $4.30 million as a result of the application.


Last week, Cr Jennifer Anderson said there was a lot to be analysed and assured the council’s decision was not made on a whim.


“If the evidence is here to show that there is a net detriment to our community, it’s very important that we try to protect our community from that detriment,” she said.


“There is still work to come, but we can be confident that we have done that research, we’ve analysed what others have said, and we can be comfortable in our decision-making today.”


Mayor Annette Death said unanimous support from councillors sent a strong message that the council was “very concerned about this application”.


“We know the detriment and the harm that gambling can have in communities and this is a public health issue and it needs and deserves a public health response,” she said.

MRSC’s submission to the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission will include the SEIA, Romsey community survey report, and a community submissions log.


The submission will also include a peer review of a research report included in the Romsey Hotel EGM application that challenges the validity of the applicant’s survey data.

ROMSEY POKIES HISTORY

Romsey Football Netball Club applied for 50 EGMs last year amid plans for a $10 million overhaul of the 90-94 Main Street pub.


The pub has stood stagnant for years following MRSC’s successful fight of a similar application more than a decade ago in a battle that went to the Supreme Court.


Owner Jim Hogan applied for 30 EGMs at the hotel in 2005, which raised significant opposition in the community. The pub lost its battle and has been closed since 2017.


Cr Rob Guthrie was a councillor at the time of the previous Romsey pokies application and was disappointed to face it again.


“I was personally disappointed to see this raise its head again when so many other sporting facilities are getting rid of these machines,” he said.


“I was disappointed to see it and I am also disappointed for the Romsey community, that they’ve had to go through all this angst again. I am hoping that we get the same output as last time.”


Councillors warned that this was just beginning of a long process that could span 12 months or more.

FIGHT SPEND: $92,000


So far, the council has spent about $92,000 in creating its submission for the Romsey Hotel application. This includes development of the Social and Economic Impact Assessment, community survey and related activities, such as legal advice.


Council officers sought expert legal advice from Maddocks regarding Gambling Regulations and Privacy Legislation.


MRSC also engaged independent consultants SGS Economics and Planning to prepare the SEIA, and Insync Surveys Pty Ltd to undertake the community survey.


Funds spent on the matter were outside the council’s original approved 2023/24 Budget. The additional budget allocation was presented to councillors for endorsement during a mid-year budget review in February.

QUICK FACTS

Macedon Ranges Shire has three EGM venues with a total of 103 EGMs. As of November 2023, there are 2.5 EGMs per 1000 adults. The shire is below its municipal cap of 355 EGMs.


In 2022-23 EGM expenditure across these three venues collectively was $9,089,731. For the last decade (prior to 2020) the number and expenditure on EGMs in Macedon Ranges Shire was generally steady at about $9.2 million per annum and 95-103 EGMs.


In 2022-23 the average annual expenditure per machine across the three venues in Macedon Ranges Shire was $88,250 (or a Net Machine Revenue of $242).