Last year, the Bakers Arms Hotel in Braybrook petitioned the state for an amended license that would permit an expansion of its existing poker machines from 31 to 50. Regulators disagreed with the plan, refusing to authorize the Victorian hotel’s increase to the current number of pokies on offer. The decision was based on the area’s lax economic stature, but Bakers Arms took the matter to the administrative tribunal, stating that more machines would mean more jobs; an argument that, along with a few amendments, got them the thumbs up from the VCAT.
The establishment’s push for additional pokies began in October of 2013 when the Braybrook hotel submitted an application to amend its vendors license, requested permission from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) to install 19 more poker machines on the premises. Bakers Arms already operates 31 machines, which would have brought the total to 50. In November, the response from regulators was negative, citing the “moderate economic benefit” to the community was not sufficient to offset the social risks.
The VCGLR stated that the Braybrook area was essentially too poor to begin with, listed amongst the most disadvantaged communities in Victoria, Australia. The region’s unemployment rate is a staggering 15%, and the socioeconomic impact of additional poker machines would simply be too great for the deprived community to bear.
The application was then amended by Bakers Arms Hotel, including a decrease in the number of requested poker machine installments from 19 to 14, and presented to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). At the hearing, Adam Sebastiano, the Director of Bakers Arms, expressed the establishment’s intentions for the expansion. He said that they were preparing for a renovation of the hotel and its game room that, along with the additional pokies, would provide “20 extra ongoing jobs”, not to mention temporary positions via the hiring of a crew to perform the site’s redevelopment project.
The tribunal was skeptical of Mr. Sebastiano’s claims, stating there is “no guarantee local people will be employed.” However, the VCAT chose to accept the proposal, citing in a report that, “Mr Sebastiano’s evidence is that local staff would be preferred”. The report went on to clarify, “The weighting [of that fact] should be more than low, because unemployment in Braybrook is relatively high.”
As a result, the hotel will be permitted to install 14 new pokies, bringing the total to 45. As part of the agreement, Sebastiano also acquiesced to continue the hotel’s previous commitments to invest in the community. In 2013, Bakers Arms Hotel reserved $100,000 for local sports and civic groups, which included a $25,000 contribution to Brimbank. As part of the amended application, the director also agreed to reduce trading by two hours per week.
In the 2012-13 fiscal year, citizens of Brimbank spent $137.63 million on poker machines; one of the highest expending cities in the entire state. $4.65 million (3.38%) of that was spent on the poker machines at the Braybrook Bakers Arms Hotel alone. Over the last fiscal year, the establishment’s pokies revenue increased 20%, up to $5.54 million.