The pokies situation in Ballarat is once again being reviewed by the City Council and some changes may soon be made. More specifically, the council is considering making the Bridge Mall a pokie-free zone, while redirecting the operation of pokies to the central business district, where new pokies machine applications may be opened.
A meeting will be held by the councillors, during which they will discuss the matter, taking into consideration a report from an independent planning panel in favour of keeping the Bridge Mall pokie-free. This could prove beneficial to the community as it will place pokies away from the neighbourhoods where vulnerable and potential problem gamblers reside and the central business district will be a far preferable location.
However the Bridge Mall traders are not so enthusiastic about this proposal and have already expressed their concern, requesting that the mall be made exempt from this move. Bridge Mall Traders Association manager John Marios explained that traders want to protect this area from the effects of pokies and that the main focus of it should be as a retail and business service centre. The Bridge Mall has a steady concentrated footfall and with so many people there, a convenient gaming facility should not be encouraged, otherwise it could interfere with business and affect the sales of the local businesses.
The independent planning panel took note of these concerns and has confirmed that the core area of the Bridge Mall would not be a suitable location for pokies machines. However, the panel also found that many areas of the central business district would in fact be perfectly suitable for the placement of pokies machines and it could also be beneficial from a tourism point of view.
Ballarat currently has 14 pokies venues in operation, housing a total of 631 machines altogether. But Ballarat has a pokies cap of 663 and so there is plenty of room for more pokies venues to open.
Council officers made a report for the councillors explaining that any changes in this vein would be carried out as a means to provide clear guidelines for the suitable placement of pokies machines. It ruled out opening venues in any areas with social and economic issues and that in these places, access to pokies should be limited as much as possible.
This comes shortly after the approval by the council of 30 additional pokies machines at Oscar’s hotel in Doveton Street North. Councillor Des Hudson has conceded that if Ballarat is to increase the number of operational pokies, they should be strategically placed to ensure that the harm they do to the community is minimal.