Ballina Council will consider a range of measures to reduce poker machines in the shire at its meeting tomorrow night, including withdrawing sponsorship from events held at poker machine venues, and refusing to attend meetings there.
But council staff have effectively recommended that councillors take no action on poker machines whatsoever, despite the fact that pokies across that shire take nearly $14m every six months.
In January, Ballina’s councillors resolved to have a report prepared into the measures councils across the state are undertaking to reduce the social impacts of poker machines, which include family breakdown, financial hardship and crippling debt.
The subsequent report from council staff notes that the shire’s 564 poker machines, across 16 premises, reaped $13,798,565 in profit in the six months from June to December last year.
Each machine made an average profit of $24,465 over the six month period.
The report also notes a number of measures that could be used to put pressure on pokie venues to reduce the number of machines.
This included council declining to to sponsor events held at these venues.
However, council staff said council currently sponsored the annual Senior’s concert and International Women’s Day event at the Ballina RSL club and that removing the sponsorship could ‘put the events at risk of not continuing’.
Staff gave similarly short shrift to the idea of directing council staff not to attend meetings or work-related functions at these venues.
‘Third parties use venues such as the Ballina RSL club to host regular meetings, forums and expos,’ staff said.
‘Prohibiting staff from attending sessions may limit opportunities for professional development and Council’s engagement in relation to issues of relevance to the community.’
There was also reticence from staff when it came to taking money from the clubs, despite the argument that this would be effectively taking money directly from poker machine profits which come from the some of the most disadvantaged in the community.
According to the Productivity Commission 2010 report approximately 4 per cent of Australian adults play at least weekly, with around 15 per cent of those being ‘problem gamblers’ who, between them, account for 40% of total spending on pokie machines.
‘This approach may impact in Council’s capacity to deliver future projects that are reliant on grant funding.’ staff said.
Staff’s ultimate recommendation was that regulation to gaming machines was ‘fundamentally a State Government responsibility’ and thus ‘implementation of a council policy relating to EGMs (Electronic Gaming Machines) is not recommended’.
The report contains no discussion of the social impact of poker machines on the Ballina community.