The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has denied a request by the Maryborough Highland Society to install 65 poker machines in their Old Goods Shed project in historic railway buildings in Castlemaine, Victoria. The Mount Alexander Shire Council and Enough Pokies in Castlemaine (EPIC) have been fighting the new pokies for two years, on the basis that the existing installed base of 30 machines in the Cumberland Hotel was enough to serve the area and that more would affect the community negatively.
EPIC and the Shire Council have been pressing an appeal on the original decision by the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation to allow the project to proceed. The Commission decided that the negative social impact on Castlemaine would be outweighed by economic benefits of the pokies. The machines were to be installed in a state owned group of vacant railway buildings being developed by the Maryborough Highland Society into a sports and community centre. The Society purchased 65 pokies at the state gaming license auction and has an agreement with Victoria to develop the railway buildings.
Opposition to the new machines was widespread throughout the Castlemaine area, which has long been known as a destination for families and tourists.
VCAT deputy president Mark Dwyer said that he did not agree with the Commission’s original decision and that, “The evidence and submissions in this case, considered collectively, lead me to the opinion that the social impacts will be moderately to highly negative, that there will be a significant effect on the social character of Castlemaine, and that this will outweigh the moderate net economic benefits of the proposal”.
Dwyer continued, “What is particularly telling for me in this case is not the raw statistic of surveyed community opposition within what might be considered ‘normal’ levels, but the range and intensity of that community opposition in this case. It is a case that is almost unique in that regard”, adding that he had been convinced that the pokies would negatively impact the social character of Castlemaine.
From 2010 to 2011, the Cumberland Hotel’s 30 pokie machines produced $3.4 million. The nearby town of Romsey already defeated a proposal to install pokies in 2009.
Malcolm Blandthorn, general manager for the Maryborough Highland Society, acknowledged the defeat as the end of the road for plans to bring more poker machines into Castlemaine, saying “If the social and economic benefits aren’t there for the Castlemaine community we won’t pursue it further”.
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