A LANDMARK decision by the state’s peak planning tribunal has effectively killed off a proposed poker machine venue in west Warrnambool.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) yesterday refused to allow Rafferty’s Tavern to gain a poker machine permit, quashing the pub’s bid to install 19 machines as part of an $800,000 planned refurbishment.
Warrnambool mayor Jacinta Ermacora hailed the decision yesterday as a win for the council’s anti-poker machine push, one of the few of its kind in the state.
However, the tavern’s management claimed the council had discriminated against west Warrnambool and was targeting small business instead of larger operators.
VCAT outlined its decision yesterday and suggested “the risk of harm to the more vulnerable community of west Warrnambool represented a social and economic disadvantage which outweighed any (business) benefits”.
The tavern’s proximity to low-income households and the temptation for people to gamble more when a site was within walking distance were noted as factors in the decision.
Cr Ermacora said she was surprised and delighted by the decision. The mayor said the result showed the power of local government when it acts in the best interests of ratepayers.
“This constitutes a landmark decision by VCAT which will be noted by municipalities throughout Victoria,” Cr Ermacora said. “The decision is a victory for those who are worried about the impact of gambling on our community and it’s a victory for council’s policy in this area.
“(The tavern’s) proximity to disadvantage neighbourhoods was a major factor and the disproportionate impact gambling has on those neighbourhoods.”
Rafferty’s Tavern manager John Hodge said the decision was a “slap in the face to west Warrnambool”.
He said hotels had been thrown a lifeline with the introduction of poker machines and claimed many pubs faced closure due to the prevalence of shop-bought alcohol.
“It’s an anti-small business decision and incredibly discriminatory,” Mr Hodge said.
“The argument that it’s within close proximity to low-income areas doesn’t stack up. Warrnambool is a smaller city and people can quite easily drive into the main part of town.”
Mr Hodge said alternative legal avenues would be investigated following yesterday’s decision.
City councillors last year rejected a recommendation from its planning department and voted to refuse the Rafferty’s Tavern permit, arguing that it wanted to rein in the number of pokies in Warrnambool.
A telephone survey of 400 residents in June found that 67 per cent of respondents either supported or had no objection to poker machines being installed at the western tavern.
Complaints were later made to The Standard that the survey was too small and male-oriented.