Double rates plan on pokies

POKER machine venues in Melbourne's north-east suburbs will have their local council rates doubled to help fund problem gambling programs under a plan to be voted on by Manningham City Council this month.

POKER machine venues in Melbourne's north-east suburbs will have their local council rates doubled to help fund problem gambling programs under a plan to be voted on by Manningham City Council this month.

High-profile Manningham councillor Stephen Mayne said the plan would affect the rates of five out of eight pokies venues in Doncaster, Templestowe and Bulleen.

The move follows on from Moreland City Council which introduced double rates for 11 pokies venues in 2010, with the money funding education programs and schemes to help problem gamblers.

The proposal is expected to add an extra $112,000 a year to Manningham council's budget. In the first year the money will fund a comprehensive study of gambling in the municipality. After that the money would be used to help problem gamblers.

There are 617 pokies in the municipality and since July last year $33.7 million has been pumped into them.

Mr Mayne said four of the venues are owned by the Woolworths-Bruce Mathieson group: the Shoppingtown Hotel, Doncaster Inn, Cherry Hill Tavern, and Manningham Club. The independent Templestowe Hotel will receive double rates.

Two venues are exempt because they are on public recreation land and rates cannot be raised, while an eighth venue, Club Warrandyte, is getting out of the pokies business in August.

Mr Mayne said residents lost $65 million playing the pokies last year but the council only received $130,000 in rates from those venues.

With the federal government still working out pokies reform Mr Mayne said it was appropriate for local councils to help out.

"We are best placed to integrate with the local health providers, deal with it from a public health policy point of view and integrate it with our recreation policy to provide alternative forms of recreation," he said.

Poker machine critic and supporter of reform Paul Bendat says increased rates for pokies venues would not help curb problem gambling.

"Local councils will just be added to the list of people [state governments] who are addicted to pokies revenue," Mr Bendat said. "This is not a disincentive for venues."

Mr Mayne said the revenue was so small that the council would not get addicted.

In Moreland the money is used to fund MoreConnect, a program run by reformed gambler Gabriela Byrne for gaming addicts. Ms Byrne's program engages problem gamblers with low-cost activities, non-gaming entertainment and programs running in Moreland.

Moreland mayor John Kavanagh said the system had been effective in discouraging new venues. He welcomed the Manningham proposal.

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