By Steph McNicol

Wallan Gateway Church and the Victorian Local Governance Association are encouraging Mitchell Shire residents to submit letters to oppose the addition of 20 poker machines at Hogans Hotel.

In May, Hogans’ application for the new poker machines was approved by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.

As part of the approval, Hogans agreed to commit $100,000 to sponsorship of community groups and projects.

Mitchell Shire Council unanimously voted to appeal the additional pokies to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, VCAT.

Last week a community session, hosted by Wallan Gateway Church and the Victorian Local Governance Association, gave residents an opportunity to write letters to VCAT explaining why they were opposed to the additional poker machines.

“We have been actively supporting the Mitchell Shire Council in opposing the poker machines at Hogan’s Hotel,” church pastor Milton Oliver said.

“The purpose of this meeting is to help empower your voice and make sure that your voices collectively are heard in the right places, particularly at VCAT.

“Gambling always does harm, it’s just a question of degree.

“So we can say, ‘you know what, we’ll live with $4.6 million getting sucked out of our community by these vacuum cleaners they call poker machines. Or we can do nothing and watch $7 million get sucked out of the community.”

Mr Oliver said the community members had to stand together to make their voices heard.

“If the community does not stand up … nothing is going to change. The backbone of the
case that Mitchell Shire are building will be built on your submissions – your letters,” he said.

The session also included guest speaker Ian Correia who spoke about his battle with gambling.

“My gambling started at the age of 15. I would save up my pocket money and walk and hour and a half to school and an hour and a half home just so I had the money to gamble at the TAB, which was halfway down the road as I travelled home,” Mr Correia said.

By 2003, after being unable to manage his house-bill payments, Mr Correia had 10 credit cards, all of which totalled more than $120,000 in debt.

“I started to become severly depressed, I started to have anxiety attacks and panic attacks where I had to pull over on the side of the road and sit there for two hours frozen, because I was so worried about what was happening to me financially.

“It had cost me my family, it had cost me my friends, it had almost cost me my job and almost cost me my life.”

Victorian Local Governance Association community engagement officer Rose O’Leary said ‘local voices’ were critical to make the appeal successful.

“You are the people that know the community better than anyone. The members from VCAT are highly unlikely from this area, but I think it’s important you tell them your story as a community member,” she said.

Session leaders said people interested in writing a submission can submit letters to Mitchell Shire Council via rebecca.sirianni@mitchellshire.vic.gov.au or at 113 High Street, Broadford.

For gambling support, contact Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858 and in crisis, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.