Romsey revival triggers council anti-gaming crusade

March 27, 2024
Clyde Mooney

A Victorian club has reignited a 20-year debate and prompted a battle with Council by applying to revive the closed Romsey Hotel, incorporating the installation of 50 gaming machines.

Romsey Football Netball Club (RFNC) submitted an application to the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) for a $10 million renovation and extension on the pub, which has stood closed since 2017.

Locals are now being urged by Council to complete a survey on the application for EGMs at the pub. 

Macedon Ranges Shire Council (MRSC) anticipates Romsey will become a major town, boasting more than 10,000.

“There is overwhelming feedback from the Romsey community that they want a pub in their town,” the RFNC put to social media.

“There were six hotels in and around the town, but at the moment there are none and the possibility that Romsey will never again see a hotel.”

Artist rendition of the proposal

Nearly two decades ago, in 2004, a proposal on the same pub also included application for 50 gaming machines, later reduced to 30, but still ultimately rejected by Council after substantial community opposition. The VGCCC backed up this decision in 2006.

But the owner appealed the Commission’s decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which overturned the ruling and approved the machines, determining any negative effects would be outweighed by the positive economic benefits to the area.

Council then appealed VCAT’s decision in the Supreme Court, which went on to rule the Tribunal erred in approving the application and overturned it again. This case set a precedent that continues to be cited.

This application proposes a multi-faceted venue catering to many markets, offering a café/bakery, bistro with al-fresco dining, wine bar, function space, sports bar and gaming lounge, open 10am-1am. The operation is expected to employ 100 full- and part-time staff and provide apprenticeships for young locals, and increase visitation to the town.

It has similarities to its ill-fated 2004 predecessor, but differs in addressing aspects relating to problem gaming and in the form of the applicant, in particular how profits will be distributed; plans outline the freehold owner and RFNC have formed a collaborative arrangement on Romsey community hotel whereby the Club receives the first $200k of profits then 30 per cent of remaining profits.

All its profits will be distributed to local clubs and charities, chosen in accordance with a committee.

MRSC has commissioned experience management consultancy Insync to deliver a Social and Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA), utilising the Victorian Electoral Commission database to directly mail all eligible Romsey residents and those within five kilometres of the venue. 

It says the plebiscite is a bid to help inform its submission to the VGCCC, noting the priority it places on the submission best representing “the sentiments of our community”. 

“We know this is an important matter for many Romsey residents and we want to ensure that we are giving as many eligible people (within five kilometres of the venue) as possible the opportunity to participate in our survey,” says Council’s Maria Weiss.

Eligible residents who haven’t directly received a letter can complete the survey, providing they show proof of residency.

Simultaneously, MRSC has also released a Gambling Harm Prevention Policy for community consultation, with the objective of saving the community from the negative impacts of gambling. 

The new draft policy includes 25 action points, such as Council actively discouraging new or additional EGMs, declining support for activities within venues with gambling, and notably, disallowing any form of gambling at Council-owned or managed sites.

This directly impacts the historic Kyneton Bowling Club, being the only gaming operator on the council’s land, and one of only three in the area.  

Games began at the Club in 1876, giving it claim to being the oldest bowls club in Victoria to have operated continually on the same site under the same name.

For more than a century it’s been a community sporting and social resource, but in 1995 was forced to introduce 25 gaming machines, “greatly to assist flagging finances”, which have since funded its expansion.

MSRC’s policy, according to Weiss, was developed considering local demographics, financial losses through EGMs in the region, feedback from the community, and “contemporary research” into gambling harms.

A date for the VGCCC hearing is yet to be announced.


Tags

Macedon Ranges Shire Council, Romsey Hotel, VCAT, VGCCC


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