Pokies submissions encouraged

Wallan Gateway Church senior pastor Milton Oliver speaks at a community information night about increased gaming machines. ​

Organisers of a public meeting regarding Hogan’s Hotel’s application for additional poker machines are encouraging residents to make a submission to a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeal.

Representatives from Wallan Gateway Church, the Victorian Local Governance Association and Nexus Primary Health spoke to an audience of about 30 people on Thursday night about how gambling addiction affected the community and what the community can do to take a stand.

After the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation approved the hotel’s application for an additional 20 poker machines, citing a neutral community impact, Mitchell Shire Council unanimously voted to appeal the decision at VCAT.

The additional pokies are part of a $2.45 million upgrade project, which also includes a new dining area, lounge and further extensions. The planning permit for the upgrades will be decided upon at a future council meeting.

The hearing for appeal is set for February or March 2020.

Attendees of last week’s meeting were encouraged to share their stories and anecdotal evidence of the dangers of gambling with VCAT, either through a written submission or on a video submission filmed by council staff.

Packs distributed by the VLGA contained information about the application, how to make a submission, details to include in a submission and statistics about gambling in the Mitchell Shire as well as a statement of grounds form to make a submission.

Wallan Gateway Church senior pastor Milton Oliver said the meeting was to empower the community so its voices were heard in the right places.

“We want to see this decision from the VCGLR reversed just as it was over in Romsey several years ago when the community did exactly what we’re doing tonight,” he said.

“This decision by the VCGLR to grant another 20 poker machines will set a dangerous precedent, making it extremely difficult to keep the reins on the demands and designs of the gambling industry in the future.”

Nexus Primary Health chief executive Suzanne Miller spoke about the health impacts of gambling addiction.

“It’s a complex issue. It’s an issue that we’ve all seen, but the access to gambling opportunities has never been as great, and very few people seek help,” she said.

“What strikes me from problem behaviours like drug abuse, alcohol abuse and even family violence is that there’s more shame associated with saying, ‘I have a problem with gambling’ than any of those other problems.

“We had 55 people come to us for financial counselling last year, that’s one person a week, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg that shows no signs of breaking.”

Hogan’s Hotel declined to comment.