WELLINGTON Shire Council has voted to support the Lakeside Club in its proposal to sell six of its poker machines to Sporting legends, provided it implements programs to mitigate the effects of gambling on society.
The club, which was formed in 2009 when the Sale Community Sports Club merged with the Sale Bowls Club and took on a $1 million debt to redevelop facilities and install 33 poker machines, is struggling with a total $2 million debt and a “significant tax liability”.
The club’s chair Ian Jones hopes that the sale of six machines – down from the original 10 – will be enough to reduce the debt and avoid the club’s closure.
At Tuesday’s council meeting councillors accepted a petition signed by almost 500 supporters of the club’s plan to relocate the six poker machines.
Sporting Legends requires approval from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation for a licence to operate additional machines at its venue, including a social and economic assessment.
But Mr Jones said the board was hopeful of a positive outcome, as the poker machines were merely being relocated 1.4km up the road, and were not adding to the number of machines in Sale.
He said the board was improving its financial position and was hopeful of meeting its tax department obligations, after receiving a promising response to its re-booted “2000 club”, where members could forward pay their membership fees.
The council’s required role in the licence process is to provide comment to the VCGLR on the social and economic assessment and whether the proposal for additional machines at Sporting Legends Club will result in net community detriment.
Council Darren McCubbin said the council was supportive of the proposal, as bowls clubs provided a recognised social and sporting outlet for communities.
“I had a grandfather who was intimately involved in the Berwick Bowls Club, and he would go down regularly and enjoy the social aspect of the club,” he said.
He said bowls clubs were usually more than a sporting venue – they were social venues that provided a “comfortable and safe” space for people.
Cr McCubbin said council wanted Lakeside Bowls Club to know it was valued and supported by the council, which “wished them every success”.
“The local Sale Bowls Club is a proud club that has a large debt and needs our help,” he said.
However, Cr McCubbin said the council took its responsibility toward mitigating the effects of gambling on the community “very seriously”, and wanted to use the opportunity to encourage the club to “rethink” its reliance on gambling income, and to ensure it was aware of its responsible gambling obligations.
Cr Carolyn Crossley agreed, saying the council had an opportunity to insist the club made changes and added programs that mitigated the effects of gambling on society.
“There needs to be a substantial process that minimises the damage and reduces losses,” she said.
Cr McCubbin said gambling resulted in $21 million of “discretionary spending” leaving the community last year.
“That’s $58,000 per day, and a huge amount of money lost on gaming in the region,” he said.
Council voted to instruct officers to provide a letter indicating a “favourable stance” on the proposal, subject to certain conditions being met regarding design of Sporting Legends Club’s community benefit program and implementation of recommendations of an independent audit of both venues regarding responsible service of gaming measures.
It is now up to Sporting Legends to make the application to the VCGLR, after which the council has 60 days to provide comment regarding the social and economic assessment of the proposal.