RSL weighs up pokies appeal

Dandenong RSL president John Wells says the sub-branch may appeal to expand its pokies licence. 157527_09 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A “bemused” Dandenong RSL is considering an appeal against the state gambling regulator’s rejection of 11 extra poker machines at the sub-branch.

The sub-branch has until 19 November to appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, president John Wells said.

“We’re weighing up our options.”

According to RSL observers, the sub-branch’s submission was among the best they’d seen, Mr Wells said.

“They’d never seen a case so well put and with so much weight.

“There was a moment of silence (amongst us) when the decision came down.”

A month after its decision, the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation handed down its reasons on 22 October.

The application failed the ‘no net detriment test’ due to a “marginal negative social impact”, according to VCGLR deputy chair Deirdre O’Donnell and commissioner Dina McMillan.

“The Commission is not satisfied that the social and economic impact … will not be detrimental to the well-being of the community of the City of Greater Dandenong.”

It noted there were 401 gaming machines at seven venues within 2.5 kilometres of the RSL – twice the metropolitan level.

The council area ranked highly in unemployment, homelessness, welfare recipients, crime and housing stress, yet was spending $965 per adult on pokies.

In 2017-18, pokies in the council area reaped more than $121 million.

Mr Wells said the reasons contained contradictions “heavily biased” towards Greater Dandenong Council – which vigorously opposed the plan to expand from 63 to 74 machines.

He was surprised that more weight wasn’t placed on the sub-branch’s plans to fund a second welfare officer and a welfare fund.

It was frustrating that the branch’s charitable work outside Greater Dandenong, such as in Casey, could not be considered, Mr Wells said.

The branch makes $7.66 million a year from its pokies. It expected to make an extra $868,984 from the new machines in their first year.

As a result of the VCGLR refusal, the RSL’s planned $2.7 million renovations, a second welfare officer and up to $50,000 for a veterans and community wellness program were on hold.

Mr Wells denied that the RSL was “greedy”, pointing to its subsidised meals, charity donations, support to Young Veterans, saving the Cranbourne sub-branch and loans to veterans.

“How can a not-for-profit be greedy? The word can’t apply.

“We don’t make anything like $7 million a year. The State Government is the biggest beneficiary.

“We agree that we don’t want Dandenong to be a pokies mecca.

“We think there’s a distinct difference between the for-profit (venues) and a not-for-profit (like the RSL).

“To call the RSL a hotel, it’s not only inaccurate, it’s a tad offensive.”

It was not uncommon for staff to suggest punters took a break from their gambling or voluntarily excluded themselves from the venue, he said.

Dandenong RSL is the third venue to be knocked back by the VCGLR this year. The other two were Lynbrook Tavern and the Station Hotel Officer, both in the South East.

Greater Dandenong Council had also successfully opposed a pokies extension for Noble Park Football Social Club last year.

Councillor Matthew Kirwan said the VCGLR was becoming “risk adverse” with Greater Dandenong given its “high rate of pokie losses and disadvantage”.

“They seem to be adopting the precautionary principle – that is if there is a possible risk to increased gambling in such a disadvantaged demographic they look to avoid taking that risk.

“This is interesting because the usual process for the commission is to be the onus on Councils to prove a net detriment.”

He told Star News recently that the RSL would have compromised its good work for veterans and the broader community if its bid was successful.

“It doesn’t make sense having great welfare services if you are funding them by means that are creating welfare problems.”