The City Council in Brimbank, a municipality within West Metropolitan Melbourne, is said to be seeking funding from gambling operators to build a planned AU$58 million health and leisure centre. The news sparked controversy among the community mainly due to its unlikely timing – the city is now introducing a more stringent policy on EGMs that aims to minimize the harm from problem gambling.
The strange partnership was proposed at a private meeting of councillors, according to The Age, one of the major websites in the Fairfax Network. The site reported that some of Brimbank’s officials apparently said that the city should approach gaming clubs and negotiate financing for a new leisure centre. The $58-million project that includes a health and wellbeing facility to be constructed and opened in St. Albans has not received funding from the state or the federal government.
Sports and gaming clubs across the municipality may be an alternative, however, as their donations may provide the needed funds for the new leisure hub. Many anti-gambling campaigners, gambling health experts, and city councillors fear that this partnership may come at a high cost, the Australian paper reports. Such a move could place the City Council in a questionable position at a time when it tries to change its policy on electronic gaming machines and on gambling venues.
In September, the Brimbank City Council joined the Alliance for Gambling Reform and launched a campaign for reducing the harm from poker machines. Their Brimbank Election Petition calls for a $1 cap on the maximum stake on gambling machines, reducing the operating hours for gaming venues, and introducing a sinking lid approach on the number of machines in the municipality. The campaign, Pokies Play Brimbank, demands that the Victorian Government implements these steps in order to minimize the detrimental effects of problem gambling on families and communities.
It also says the more research is needed and that such projects should be immediately funded so that institutions can better understand the long-term social, economic and health impact of compulsive gambling on individuals and their families. The Brimbank Electronic Gambling Policy 2015, which is now under review and should be finalized in May, aims to minimise the detrimental social and economic effects of EGMs and other forms of electronic gambling. However, new and more decisive steps should be taken towards achieving this, the Council has said.
Is Partnership between Pokies Club and the Council Possible?
Currently, the City of Brimbank has a cap on the number of electronic gambling machines – 953, and as of June 2018, all of them were operational. In other words, there are 5.8 machines per 1,000 adults in the city. There is a total of 15 venues that host EGMs in the municipality. According to statistics by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Brimbank reports the biggest gaming losses in Victoria. In 2017-2018, gamblers lost $139,5 million on pokies, which means that $382,212 on average was spent on pokies every day.
Brimbank mayor Lucinda Congreve told the Australian paper that the Council would be now seeking additional funding for various projects and that one of the potential partners was Community Clubs Victoria. The association includes several “community clubs” with gambling machines in Brimbank and is planning a pro-gambling campaign for the 2020 council elections. But this is not the only gambling organization that may take advantage of a possible partnership with the Council.
Currently, the Green Gully Soccer Club and the St Albans Sports Club are located on properties owned by the council. The two clubs, which operate pokies, also pay nominal leases and their contracts are expected to expire very soon. According to The Age, the two clubs are now lobbying for new, 20-year leases that would include the same rent. Logically, if the Council approaches them, the potential partnership may give them what they want – peppercorn rents in exchange for small donations for the community.