Stuart McDonald’s 10-year addiction to the pokies began while watching the football at the Whitten Oval and Docklands Stadium.
- Mr McDonald and advocates are outraged by a Melbourne football club’s plans for 70 new poker machines
- The proposal was approved by the gaming regulator with the backing of the state Treasurer, despite council opposition
- AFL clubs are being encouraged to get rid of their pokies but the VFL club says it needs the revenue to be viable
“During the half-time break I would go down and put significant amounts in the pokies, then I’d wander back upstairs feeling depressed and miserable,” he said.
It didn’t take long to turn into a full-blown addiction.
“One time I emptied the entire bank account and had to shame-facedly ring my ex-wife and tell her there was no money for groceries that week because I spent it at the football,” he said.
He has since recovered from addiction and the poker machines at Whitten Oval and Docklands Stadium are gone.
Mr McDonald said they should not have been there to begin with.
“Football and gaming don’t mix,” he said.
“Football is meant to be a family-friendly activity and poker machines certainly aren’t.”
Mr McDonald has moved from Melbourne’s west to Warrnambool, in western Victoria.
But he said he’s disappointed the Werribee Tigers Football Club is planning to include 70 poker machines in its new venue in Tarneit, in Melbourne’s outer west.
“There are just venues everywhere, and the western suburbs of Melbourne are particularly hard-hit because they’ve got venues in every corner,” he said.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) has approved the club’s application for 70 poker machines at its proposed new entertainment venue, Club Tarneit, in a rapidly developing area near Tarneit train station.
The club must make $50,000 in annual community contributions and employ a full-time Community Development Manager.
A spokesman for the club declined the ABC’s interview request, saying an appeal is still possible. But in its application, the club said it needed the revenue from pokies to remain viable in the VFL.
Council disappointed by approval
The local council, the City of Wyndham, opposed the application.
Councillor Josh Gilligan said it was disappointing it was approved.
“That’ll add millions of dollars onto an already $290,000 of losses, each and every day, in the City of Wyndham,” he said.
There are currently 903 gaming machines in Wyndham, including 85 at the Tigers Clubhouse in Hoppers Crossing.
“We’re already seeing the social cost of these types of issues, whether it be domestic violence, whether it be homelessness, whether it be house delinquencies and mortgages that go under,” Cr Gilligan said.
He said the football club is an important part of the community in Melbourne’s west.
“We love footy but when we find that it’s being propped up by pokies venues, our community gets particularly worried about the impact that has on it,” he said.
State Treasurer supported application
Not everyone is so worried.
The local MP, Tim Pallas, who is also the Victorian Treasurer, wrote to the VCGLR to support the Tigers’ application.
“Throughout its history, the Werribee Football Club has established strong links to Wyndham’s young and growing community,” he wrote.
He said the club runs programs with local schools and multicultural groups.
“I’m advised the proposed entertainment venue in Tarneit will see the establishment of new facilities to include function rooms, bistro including alfresco dining bar, cafe, gaming room and sports bar,” he wrote.
“Wyndham is a vibrant, young and rapidly-growing community and this type of venue will enhance the provision of facilities for young families,” he said.
He noted the VFL club doesn’t have an AFL-affiliated club “and subsequently experiences different financial challenges”.
AFL says it’s supporting VFL clubs to diversify
The council wrote to the AFL in February, to ask what the league is doing to help clubs like the Werribee Tigers move away from gaming revenue.
It is yet to receive a reply.
In the AFL, North Melbourne, Geelong, the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne have at least committed to make their venues pokies-free.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform’s Tim Costello said the league must do more.
“They’ve been saying ‘let’s get clubs out of pokies’ because they do such profound damage to the community.”
In a statement to the ABC, a spokesman for the AFL described VFL clubs as “pillars of the community.”
He said the AFL has reduced licence fees, salary caps and is subsidising travel.
“The AFL continues to work with all VFL clubs on new revenue opportunities to diversify their business operations ensuring the legacy of these clubs continues to play an important part in the Australian football landscape,” he said.
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