Longstanding pub Hotel Yanco has sought approval from the state regulator to install seven poker machines, citing the “positive contribution” this would make to the community in its application.
The licensed premises, which has operated since 1930 and currently doesn’t have pokies, applied to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) to increase its entitlement to have gaming machines from zero to seven.
This includes transferring three entitlements from Whitton’s Rice Bowl Hotel and then subsequently gaining a further four entitlements, which would allow for a total of seven new machines to be installed at the pub if approved.
Hotel Yanco’s application follows a recent push by two other Riverina pubs – Griffith’s Area Hotel and Gemini – to also obtain more pokies, a matter that was later the subject of a Supreme Court battle between the pubs’ owners and the ILGA.
The number of poker machines in circulation across the state increased substantially over the past year and now exceeds 87,000, despite supposed NSW Government reforms to reduce the number of pokies and minimise harm caused by problem gambling.
“How many machines are too many poker machines, in your view, in terms of trying to reduce the harm from poker machines?” Greens MP Cate Faehrmann asked Gaming Minister David Harris at a recent parliamentary hearing.
“That will be for [an independent panel on gambling we formed] to direct us on. I think you’re asking me how long is a piece of string,” Minister Harris responded.
In the Riverina, ILGA data shows residents of Griffith, Leeton and the Murrumbidgee lost an estimated $8 million from 129 pokies in pubs during the first six months of this year. On top of that, Leeton and Murrumbidgee residents lost an estimated $3.6 million from an additional 142 pokies in clubs over a similar timeframe.
The ILGA is currently deciding whether to approve the Hotel Yanco application.
“The authority considers each application on a case-by-case basis having regard to a range of factors including demographics of the area, crime statistics, known risk factors for gaming related harm and submissions from NSW Police, NSW Health, and members of the public,” an ILGA spokesperson said.
“The decision in relation to the Yanco Hotel will be taken by the authority after careful consideration of these and other factors.”
The general public can make submissions expressing their views on the application via the ILGA website before 26 December.
Hotel Yanco’s application was submitted on its behalf by Hatzis Cusack Lawyers, a firm that specialises in liquor and gaming law. The lawyers also prepared a local impact assessment, which outlined arguments in support of the application.
“A positive contribution shall be made by way of a financial contribution … paid to the Responsible Gambling Fund if this application is approved,” the assessment stated.
The Responsible Gambling Fund raises money for gambling-related counselling, support services, awareness and education via a levy that venues with poker machines are forced to pay.
Hatzis Cusack also highlighted the sponsorship the pub provided to local community groups over the past 12 months – $7500 to Yanco Rugby League Football Club, $500 to Camp Quality, $500 to cancer charity Can Assist and $500 to a charity car rally.
Average profit per poker machine in the Leeton area was $123,556 over the past year, the assessment document observed.
The NSW Labor Government has pledged to “reduce the number of poker machines in circulation” across the state. Region therefore asked Gaming Minister Harris if he was concerned about or would do anything to stop Riverina pubs trying to get more pokies at their venues. He did not answer the question, but highlighted some recent reforms from his government, such as reducing “the cash input limit from $5000 to $500 for all new poker machines from 1 July,” and “capping the number of gaming machine entitlements in circulation”.
Hatzis Cusack Lawyers were contacted for comment but did not respond.