The matter of pokies guidelines is once again up for discussion by the Ballarat Council and a gaming policy panel has been consulted for suggestions and recommendations for the city’s planning laws.
The main concern of the council is that current pokies regulations are lacking, especially those regarding where the gaming machines should be installed. An independent panel has chimed in, suggesting that the ban forbidding the operation of pokies in Bridge Mall should continue and that any machines in operation should not be placed anywhere near vulnerable areas, particularly those housing problem gambling support services and any other social and health services.
The panel insists that implementing stronger guidelines will make it easier for the council to oppose any future applications and planning permits for pokies if any such matters are taken to court. If the council does pass the panel’s report, it will then require the approval of the Victorian Planning Minister in order to go ahead.
However the council remains divided on the issue of some new pokies applications for the central business district. A decision was made to open up the area for the possible operation of pokies, following a vote in which the majority of councillors favoured an amendment to the Ballarat City Council Gaming Policy Framework, although it did exclude the Bridge Mall.
It is now up to the council to gain approval from the state government in order to exemplify the central business district from the current legislation that bans the installation of pokies in shopping centres. Against lifting the ban was gambling researcher from the University of Ballarat Deborah Greenslade, who urged the council to keep pokies out of the city’s retail sector, citing among other reasons the fact that gaming venues would be brought closer to schools and various health support venues.
Councillor Des Hudson moved the motion, confirming that pokies machines should be kept away from vulnerable areas, such as disadvantaged neighbourhoods, rather than turning them into Las Vegas. Councillor Joshua Morris also supported the motion in order to minimise the negative effect of pokies as much as possible.
However councillor Belinda Coates did not feel that the amendment corresponded with the council’s stance on health and wellbeing as it would remove state government protections and be a risky move for Ballarat. Councillor Samantha McIntosh was also against the removal of the strip shopping ban and said that it wouldn’t fix anything.
Ultimately, the motion was carried with a 6-3 majority.