Victoria’s Bendigo council has implemented a new policy designed to tackle gambling harm in the community.
The Greater Bendigo City Council’s Reducing Harm from Gambling Policy was passed in December 2021 and encompasses all forms of gambling, with a specific focus on electronic gaming machines (EGM’s), which are the most prevalent cause of gambling-related financial loss and harm in Australia.
The new policy was created in response to the discovery of high levels of gambling harm, identified via the Council’s planning projects.
Mayor Andrea Metcalf stated that the city would do its part in keeping its residents safe, saying,
“The objective of the policy is to ensure the Greater Bendigo community does not experience negative social and economic impacts from gambling. Harm from gambling impacts not only on the individual but also affects other family members, friends, local businesses and communities.”
An estimate by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation puts the overall amount lost on gambling across the City at around $50 million.
“In 2018 and 2019, $50,671,968 was lost on EGMs in Greater Bendigo at 11 hotels and clubs who jointly operate 661 machines,” Metcalf said.
The City is has laid out numerous changes it plans to implement over the next four years, such as pushing the state government to introduce gambling regulatory reforms. Other proposed measures include $1 maximum bet limits, removing ATM’s and other cash dispensing mechanisms from EGM venues, and reducing the operating hours of EGM operators.
Any form of advertising and promotion of gambling at council-run facilities will be banned, gambling-related research will be granted more support and the city has committed to publishing updated gambling data on its website.
The draft policy faced community consultation in June 2021 to less than favourable reviews. 83 out of 95 of the respondents were opposed to the policy. Some respondents pointed out that sporting and other community-based clubs may be negatively impacted due to the loss of funds generated by EGM operators.
Others wondered what effect the policy would have on veterans or stated that not enough consultation had been conducted with local sporting and community-based clubs.
Metcalf countered that the widely negative feedback was due to misconceptions, saying,
“Many submissions were based on the misunderstanding that the council has the power and desire to remove all EGMs across the City, which is not possible nor is it the intent of the policy,” she said.
The draft policy has since been updated by the council after further analysis and the next review of the policy will take place in December 2023.