The Alliance for Gambling Reform said Brimbank’s new policy was one of the strongest in the state and could set a precedent for councils across Australia.
However Brimbank does not go as far as Darebin Council, which bans groups that operate a pokies venue from using council property, including sporting grounds, and refuses to give them financial assistance.
Brimbank mayor Lucinda Congreve said the council recognised that sporting clubs delivered significant social benefits to the community and it genuinely valued this contribution.
“This policy allows us to work in partnership with those venues that do have electronic gaming machines to identify and implement measures that reduce gambling harm.”
Cr Congreve said it was unacceptable the municipality continued to experience the highest pokies losses in Victoria, particularly given it was home to some of Melbourne’s most disadvantaged communities.
An extraordinary $1.4 billion has been lost on poker machines in Brimbank in the past 10 years.
Alliance for Gambling Reform director Tim Costello said for too long councils had just renewed long term peppercorn leases for pokies clubs on council land without conditions.
“Pokies on council land is a fraught issue but I welcome the new Brimbank policy,” he said.
Councils do not have the power to regulate the number, location or operation of pokie machines, which were introduced to Victoria in 1992.
However Brimbank Council will lobby the state government to reduce the number of pokies in the municipality, including the introduction of a “sinking cap” which would mean that as pokies are removed from one venue, they would not be replaced in another venue.
There are 953 poker machines in Brimbank – the maximum allowable under state government regulations.
Under the policy, adopted by Brimbank Council on Tuesday night, the council will prohibit the operation of any new pokies on council-owned land and ban council events being held at venues where there is gambling.
It will also prohibit access to online gambling at all council facilities.
In a Brimbank council report, an officer rejected a suggestion the council refuse to partner or invest in infrastructure of organisations that operate or profit from pokies.
“This suggestion is not realistic in Brimbank and similar LGAs [local government areas] where there has been a historical reliance on gambling sponsorship and support for community activities,” the report said.
In April The Age reported Brimbank considered a partnership with pokies operators to help fund a new $58 million leisure centre.
More than 1300 people from St Albans Sports Club and Green Gully Soccer Club signed petitions seeking assurance from the council that they be allowed to continue to operate pokies on council land.
“We are very much a community club, and do a lot for the community … our major concern is not being in a position to do all that community work,” St Albans Sports Club chairman Gary Keenan told the Star Weekly in March.
“We sponsor a number of clubs, look after the ground, run very low-cost bingo, provide a free courtesy bus, and that will disappear if we can’t operate as we currently do.”
Monash University gambling health expert Professor Charles Livingstone said policies like Brimbank and Darebin’s went a long way towards establishing a groundswell of support for pokies reform.
“I think the general sense in the community is that pokies are on the nose, exploitative and predatory,” Dr Livingstone said.
“Organisations that want to project positive values are likely to start getting harder and harder on pokies. I think we are going to see more and more AFL clubs divest themselves.”
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.