The neighborhood of District Park in Warringah Council is a peaceful place with a bright future, but one that could soon see war waged between ClubsNSW and local officials. The council owns the lease on a location known as Club North Manly, a community bowling club that is in merger talks with Manly Leagues. If the merge goes through, the council fears an outbreak of poker machines, and subsequent problem gambling, will result.
Manly Leagues currently owns and operates 200 pokies, while Club North Manly operates just 12. If these two entities unite, it would give Manly Leagues the option of moving as many as all 200 of its pokies to the new bowling club site.
Warringah Council is deeply concerned about the ramifications if so many poker machines were to be installed in District Park. A $6 million development is already underway in the area; one that the council expects to turn District Park into a social hub or young people.
Situated in the north beaches region of Sydney, Warringah Council pledged to express its concerns to businesses with a stake in the new sports club merger, but that brought the ire of Anthony Ball, Chief Executive Officer of ClubsNSW.
Mr. Ball wasted no time in articulating his resentment of the council’s impending interference. He wrote a letter to Mayor Michael Regan, stating in no uncertain terms that the council has no right to impose restrictions on poker machines, regardless of the fact that the club’s lease is owned by Warringah Council.
Cr. Pat Daley, a family man who’s spent more than 30 years hanging his hat in Warringah, isn’t willing to let the matter die so easily. Fearing the proliferation of problem gambling throughout the area, he’s already initiated a plea to limit the number of pokies that can be installed at the District Park location.
The Councilor is adamant that they have every right to impose such restrictions, and is fully prepared to take the matter to court, if need be. “As the landlord, we can determine,” declared Cr. Daley. “We can put that in the lease. The battle lines are drawn.”
A spokeswoman for ClubsNSW (who seemed much less inclined to make waves than the company’s CEO), gave the following statement: “Council is an important stakeholder and landlord … and will have a say in what happens.”
Legal Guidelines on Poker Machine Restrictions in NSW
From a legal standpoint, it would appear that Mr. Ball has a very healthy leg to stand on. Validation of the club’s right to install poker machines without limitation was confirmed by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, which based its opinion on the text of the NSW Gaming Machines Act.
The Act “prevents a consent authority from using an environmental planning instrument to impose conditions on a club to prohibit, regulate or restrict the installation, keeping or operation of approved gaming machines.”
By these terms, so long as the poker machines to be installed are already approved (which they are), the “consent authority” (the council) has no legal grounds to “prohibit, regulate or restrict” their installation at a club.