The state government has announced reforms that aim to help limit gambling related harm by capping the number of electronic gaming machines, but a loophole appears to in fact allow more opportunity for venues to expand.
Castlemaine resident Ian Braybrook, former secretary of the dissolved Castlemaine Sports and Community Club Inc, said he was pleased with the announced changes to conditions governing ownership and licences for EGMs.
He said while the government was correct in saying the number of gaming machines in Victoria would be frozen for 25 years under the reforms, the actual number of machines in Victoria was nowhere near the number of allocations, so other elements of the changes actually provided an opportunity for the establishment of a club venue in Castlemaine.
"The overhaul of the state laws doubles licence terms from 10 to 20 years and doubles ownership limits from 420 to 840 EGMs," Mr Braybrook said.
"This is good news for Castlemaine. We came close to getting a club last year but could not get the finance. Two of the principal reasons were the relatively short 10-year term licensing period and the 420 EGM ownership limit.
"This made Castlemaine unattractive to prospective investors. But under the new rules investors have a 20-year term for returns and, with EGM ownership doubled, it allows established clubs from outside our area, already at their machine limit, to set up in Castlemaine.
"In Victoria there has been a number of allocations given, but not all of them are being used. Some venues have successfully applied for allocations, but they have not installed the total number of machines that the allocation allows.
"Operators who already own 420 EGMs will be able to expand. They can now run up to eight venues and own 840 machines. This presents an opportunity for existing clubs to come to Castlemaine, instead of the money going out of the shire."
Mr Braybrook said he was hopeful existing clubs would take advantage of the overhaul and see the opportunity that existed in Castlemaine.
"The hope is to attract an established club, perhaps even metropolitan, to come to town," Mr Braybrook said.
"The CS&CC had no option but to cease operation when we failed to get finance. However we had 1500 paid up members who wanted a community club and they haven't gone away. They are still here."
"We need and deserve a decent venue such as those enjoyed by most similar towns in Victoria."
While the reforms could present an opportunity for some venues, there is some concern that it enables machines to be moved to higher performing areas which may impact people who can least afford it.
"What this allows for is the machines to be moved to places where they have been successful for venue operators. What's really of interest here is the follow-up effect on the areas where people are the poorest," former Macedon Ranges councillor Tom Gyorffy said.
"It's very well to say that the number of gaming machines in Victoria is capped at 27,372 but this could be changed by any future government."
Macedon Ranges was ranked 44 out of 70 LGAs for gambling losses in Victoria for 2015-16, while Mount Alexander was ranked 60.
More than $9.179 million was lost on pokie machines in Macedon Ranges in the last year (an average of $25,081 lost per day) and more than $3.116M for Mount Alexander.
No opportunity in Castlemaine says former EPIC participant
A participant from the former 'anti pokies' group in Castlemaine, Enough Pokies In Castlemaine, Chris Hosking says the recently announced changes to gaming machines will not affect Mount Alexander Shire.
"The changes to the rules recently announced by the Andrew's government cap the number of machines but allow clubs to operate up to 840 machines," Mr Hosking said.
"This will not affect Mount Alexander Shire as no club presently has any machines.
"The 2015 amendment to the Shire's Gaming Policy through the Planning Scheme, as far as I understand, allows for destination venues and not convenience venues.
"I assume this means that there will be no new machines in the CBD so a 'club' out of town could apply for machines.
"The amendment was designed to reduce the risks of harm in terms of creating more poker machine users who cannot control their use.
"It is difficult for me to see a club in Mount Alexander Shire applying for a licence."