January 20, 2016 – 10:16AM
Senior Reporter for The Age
Hobsons Bay Council upset at money sent to Carlton HQ from local poker machine losses Photo: Darrian Traynor
AFL clubs with poker machines are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked as a “community benefit” on their own facilities and venues and one local council is not happy.
The latest community benefit spending statements show Carlton’s Club Laverton claimed $366,193 in costs linked to its home base Ikon Park about 15 kilometres away in Carlton at Princes Park.
The claim included $10,484 on a spa/pool and $3778 as waste removal.
Community benefit from AFL club poker machine venues under scrutiny Photo: Virginia Star
The Vic Inn, Carlton’s venue in Williamstown, claimed $218,261 in community benefit expenditure and $166,540 was for Ikon Park operating costs.
Hobsons Bay Mayor Peter Hemphill said “someone’s winning here and it’s definitely not our Hobsons Bay community”.
He said there “are huge profits being made by pokie operators in Hobsons Bay, but that translates to almost zero benefit for the local community”.
“Almost nothing was spent on gambling education or awareness programs in Hobsons Bay, or local community and sporting clubs – initiatives that would be of actual benefit to this community rather than upgrades to an AFL training facility in Carlton,” he said.
“We know many local sports clubs here who would love to receive some funding support from these venues.”
Clubs operating poker machines pay a reduced rate of tax compared to hotels as long as they show 8.33 per cent of the venue’s poker machine revenue was spent on approved community benefits.
Approved benefits can include housing assistance for the disadvantaged, relief of poverty, educational purposes and services for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling and drug and alcohol addictions.
Club Laverton and The Vic Inn claimed no expenditure under these categories.
Other AFL clubs are claiming operating costs of poker machine venues – which is allowed under the current rules – as a community benefit.
Collingwood Football Club’s venue in Caroline Springs, The Club, claimed $767,357 in operating costs as a community benefit and the Hawthorn Football Club’s Vegas at Waverley Gardens claimed $751,345 in operating costs as a community benefit.
Monash University public health professor Charles Livingstone said community benefit contributions should be for the local community.
He said the gambling regulator often approved poker machine venues because on balance, community contributions made by the club will counterbalance the harm done by problem gambling.
He questioned how this could occur if the community benefits were leaving the local area.
“If people could see genuine benefits coming to their community from this, they might be less upset when their community has its guts ripped out by the increases in problem gambling and by businesses failing because they can’t compete with subsidised food and drink,” he said.
He said venue operating costs should not be counted as a community benefit and said the minister for gaming could ban this with the stroke of a pen.
A spokeswoman for the Carlton Football Club said the club “runs two community programs within the City of Hobsons Bay, including a partnership with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, as well as a partnership with the Victoria Police on their ‘Vision’ program, both focused on supporting young people in the area”.
“Participants of both programs are hosted at our facility at Ikon Park”, she said.
“While these two programs are an integral part of our community engagement within this area, the club continues to facilitate a number of key community programs across the state. We look forward to further developing all our community programs in 2016.”
Collingwood Football Club said the The Club venue in Caroline Springs donated $159,450 to sporting clubs, clubs and charities in the local area including the Caroline Springs Football Club, Caroline Springs Cricket Club, Albion Football Club, The Heartwell Children’s Foundation and programs through the Melton Shire.
The club said the $736,357 in operating costs was “to provide a facility that benefits the local community and generates employment”.
The state government is reviewing Victoria’s poker machine industry and a spokeswoman said the review would include the requirements for community benefit claims.
Submissions to the poker machine review close on February 26.
Source : The Age