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Victoria's Poker Machine Venues Face Scrutiny for Community Benefit Claims

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In the state of Victoria, Australia, poker machine venues have come under scrutiny for diverting a significant portion of their gambling profits to themselves, justifying these actions as contributions to the community.

According to the annual report of the state gaming regulator, these venues spent a staggering $184 million of their gambling profits on what they labeled as a "community benefit" to qualify for tax cuts.

Victoria's Controversial Tax Scheme

Under the current scheme, clubs in Victoria can receive a tax cut if they reinvest 8.33% of their gambling revenue into community initiatives. However, this has led to criticism and allegations of loopholes in the system, as these initiatives can include expenses like renovations, operating costs, and even Foxtel subscriptions, which are necessary to keep gambling venues operational.

The controversy surrounding this tax minimization scheme has drawn ire from various quarters, including councils, public health experts, social service groups, and anti-gambling advocates. Critics argue that the system allows clubs to prioritize their own interests and profits while claiming to support the community.

While clubs spent $13 million of their gambling revenue on donations, gifts, and sponsorships for the community, a substantial $171 million was directed back into the clubs to cover operating costs. This discrepancy has fueled outrage and calls for reform.

A group known as No Pokies at Essendon, which is campaigning for the AFL club to divest its poker machine assets, conducted an analysis revealing that all Victorian venues have spent a cumulative $3 billion on their operating costs while benefiting from the community tax cut since 2009.

Related: New Gambling Rules for Pokies Implemented in Victoria

A Parallel to New South Wales' ClubGrants

This situation isn't unique to Victoria, as a similar scheme known as ClubGrants in New South Wales has also faced criticism and is currently under review. Anti-gambling advocate Tim Costello has labeled it a "shameless rort."

While New South Wales is taking steps to address these concerns, there is no official review of the scheme in Victoria. However, the Victorian government has implemented some restrictions on poker machines and signaled its intention to make further changes.

One significant change involves forcing all gaming machine areas, except those at Crown Casino, to close between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m. starting from mid-2024. Additionally, the government is considering introducing laws that would require all Victorian gamblers to establish binding limits on their daily poker machine losses. This could entail the introduction of a mandatory pre-commitment system that requires players to use a card to sign in and set loss limits.

The government's aim is to implement some of the most robust anti-money laundering measures and gambling regulations in Australia. These reforms have been driven by concerns about escalating losses among Victorian gamblers, with $7.4 billion lost to gambling in the last financial year, excluding the online wagering industry.

As the debate surrounding gambling regulation intensifies in Victoria, the actions taken by the government and the industry's response will significantly impact the future of poker machine venues and their contributions to the community. Guardian Australia is currently seeking a response from Melissa Horne, the Victorian minister for gaming, regarding these developments.

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