WARRNAMBOOL City Council has lost its fight to stop eight electronic gaming machines from being installed at the Flying Horse Bar and Brewery.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has ruled in favour of the planning permit application which had been refused by a majority council vote in March.
It is expected the machines will be operating in the east Warrnambool venue by February.
Another controversial application for Raffertys Tavern in west Warrnambool for 19 pokies, refused by the council last year, will come before the tribunal for the second time early next year.
Flying Horse operators Graeme Rodger and Matthew Monk welcomed the decision as a sweet victory after a long, expensive battle they estimated had cost them at least $100,000 on top of the $1.04 million paid at the licence auction in 2010.
Mayor Michael Neoh, who was the minority opponent to the council’s refusal of the permit, said he was not surprised by the VCAT ruling.
“I’m not pro or anti gambling, I looked at the issue from a planning perspective,” he said.
“We’ll wait with interest the Raffertys decision next year.”
Tribunal senior member Russell Byard, in his ruling on the Flying Horse application, agreed with the council’s planning officers the proposal should be approved.
He said it did not increase the total number of pokies in Warrnambool, nor would it increase harmful effects on lower socio-economic sectors of the community.
Mr Byard also challenged the council’s view that pokies should be concentrated in central Warrnambool.
“I do not think the strategic or structural importance of the central activity area would be compromised by this minor proposal,” he said.
“I think that exposure to the convenience of and opportunity for impulse gaming is the most important consideration in relation to the appropriateness or otherwise of gaming locations.
“It seems ironic to reflect that this exposure to convenience and opportunity is far greater in relation to the concentration of venues in and around the more robust and diverse environment of the central city.
“This place is not within convenient walking distance from homes or convenience facilities.”
Mr Rodger slammed the previous council’s decision because it was based on moral, rather than planning grounds.
“It was the council that put us in dispute mode and ratepayers would be amazed to find out how much this has cost in legal fees and expert reports,” he said.
“We are providing a niche in a very small part of the gambling market,” he said.
“There is already a TAB outlet here, so if someone wants to put $30,000 on a horse we can’t stop them, so why should we stop them putting 20 cents in a pokie machine.
“I’m saddened and disheartened by the lack of council support for business investment in Warrnambool.”