GAMBLING opportunities in Bendigo are set to shrink and attention is being focused on the long hours of access gamblers already have to poker machines in the city.
Asked to extend liquor licence trading hours at the All Seasons Hotel, the City of Greater Bendigo this week said no because it did not want gamblers to have more time at machines, or more access to drinking.
Councillors were also concerned that the All Seasons, Bendigo’s largest pokies venue with more than $5.5 million going into machines in the six months to December 31, operates outside the city’s entertainment area and adjacent to housing.
But drawing attention to the generosity shown to operators in the past, councillor Andrea Metcalf said her research showed the Bendigo District RSL Club was effectively able to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“The liquor licence for the RSL was granted by the Victorian Commision of Gaming and Liquor Regulation in 1987 (and) this licence essentially gave the business 24 hour service rights except for a period between 1am and 10am on Sunday mornings,” Cr Metcalf said.
“The city agreed to a variation in 2014 to allow the serving of alcohol on Sundays.”
The RSL is located in North Bendigo, also outside the entertainment district, and it closes at 4am Thursday to Saturday and at 2am Sunday to Wednesday, an hour later each day than the All Seasons.
The owners of the All Seasons want to extend its hours to 4am Thursday to Saturday and 3am on other days.
“I was interested to read in the documentation submitted by the applicant that the reason behind the increased hours was to remain competitive as a business as the RSL already had approval for similar hours,” Cr Metcalf said.
She voted to refuse the All Seasons’ application, arguing that the RSL licence predates the current policy of the council that sought to discourage convenience to gambling.
Councillors elected in this term have taken a vocal stance against gambling, throwing their weight against a bid by Bendigo Stadium Limited to put 44 pokies into the Wellington at Botanic Gardens Hotel and by the Bendigo Club to add 16 machines.
The VCGLR has the ultimate say in pokies numbers and it rejected Bendigo Stadium’s bid and approved the Bendigo Club’s.
There is concern Bendigo Stadium could pull out of operating the Wellington in White Hills, as the organisation has stated its plans to refurbish the pub were not sustainable without income from the pokies it proposed.
This week, councillors reiterated their disapproval of pokies.
Deputy mayor Jennifer Alden, who has led the charge in the past, said All Seasons’ proposal may have adverse social impacts on the community because of the increased hours available to gaming facilities.
“On my calculation, (approval of the All Seasons’ application for extended hours) means it is closed for the whole week for only 32 hours,” she said.
The All Seasons Hotel and the Bendigo Stadium were contacted for comment.
– Sharon Kemp