The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, says sweeping gambling reforms announced by Premier Daniel Andrews are certain to cost jobs, see community sponsorship dry up and may force some clubs to close.
In a campaign Mr Walsh says is so flawed and so far out of synch with the real world, its only guaranteed outcome is clubs and pubs will be crippled.
He says with the explosion of online gambling options and NSW clubs and pubs just minutes from Echuca and operating with more realistic regulations, all the Andrews Labor government will achieve is move the issues it thinks it is addressing into other markets.
“Even worse, and as usual, Daniel Andrews has one set of rules for us and one for Melbourne, as his proposed reforms make an even bigger mockery of the level playing field,” Mr Walsh says.
“Apparently the Premier plans to introduce mandatory closing hours – except for Crown Casino – along with slower spin times and smaller spending limits in a bid to minimise gambling harm,” he says.
“He intends to slash the current load-up limit to just 10 per cent of the current figure, slow down the actual operation of machines – the amount which can be put into a machine at any one time – from $1000 to $100.
“The Nationals will be strongly opposing these changes. No doubt people do have gambling problems and yes, that needs to be addressed – but the solution is not destroying the club industry because people will simply find an alternative, they always have.
“In the end it is an educational challenge, and also a case of people accepting responsibility for their own actions at the same time.
“On the one hand we have the Andrews Labor government bending over backwards to accommodate the illegal drug industry by opening ‘safe’ injecting rooms in the heart of Melbourne and now bending over backwards to cripple a legal industry.”
Echuca Workers Club’s future is right in the crosshairs of these changes, and its general manager Erin Langman says all the signs are they will be damaging right across the business.
Ms Langman says the Workies employs 49 staff, has contributed almost $1 million in direct sponsorship and support to the local community in recent years, pays rates, a lot of taxes to the Victorian government and its building is a significant social asset.
She says, for example, it is home to the local Kiwanis and Probus clubs for their regular meetings, and is used by many other groups, and individuals, because of its excellent facilities.
“The outline we have seen of the coming changes is a serious concern for us – for all the people who work here, for the many local businesses who supply us with everything from the construction crews, who did all our upgrades and extensions, to the equipment, uniforms and consumables we need on a regular basis,” Ms Langman explains.
“If this is what the changes are truly going to be, the damage won’t just be done in our club, the ripple effect through all the groups we support, through employment and the impact that will have on the individuals who might lose their jobs, and their families, who face uncertainty and may be forced to move looking for new work, is frightening,” she says.
“This community club has a long and proud history of working very hard to become the destination it now is, where people can just drop in for a coffee and cake, or a meal, and catch up with family and friends in a low-cost, inviting setting.”
Ms Langman says she is also worried about the proposed introduction of mandatory carded play with set loss limits of no more than $100 a day.
She says there are a number of details the clubs are still waiting to see, but initial reports indicate these cards won’t be venue specific, but rather one card fits all.
A move she says will also cut deeply into the way clubs currently operate.
“If it becomes one card fits all, then wherever you go, whatever you spend, or whatever you add, all your data will flow back solely to the venue which issued your card,” Ms Langman says.
“A very big part of our business comes from Melbourne as Echuca-Moama is a tourism destination, so many Melbourne people also own holidays homes here,” she added. “If they do like to play the pokies they will also be doing that at home, so will use their Crown or other Melbourne cards here and all that data will be lost to us,” she explains.
“And through all this, just across the river, three very good clubs will be playing under a much more realistic set of protocols, so where do you think everyone is going to go?”