Shellharbour City Council will soon own up to 10 poker machines through The Links, Shell Cove after a major backflip by councillors.
Twelve months ago Deputy Mayor Paul Rankin argued the council was left with ‘‘no option’’ but to activate the 10 poker machine licences at the golf club to stem ongoing losses.
The move was opposed by fellow councillors including Mayor Marianne Saliba and Cr Kellie Marsh.
At the time Cr Saliba said while a private operator of the golf course could have them, it would be ‘‘irresponsible’’ for the council to do so.
At the same time Cr Marsh said poker machines had been ‘‘a major, major problem for many families in the area’’ and would not enhance the club in any way.
Both have had a change of mind.
Shellharbour Council has an option to acquire 10 poker machine licences, an option that will lapse in October 2016.
Depending on patronage, the council believes the machines would bring in between $100,000 and $350,000 per annum.
Cr Rankin welcomed the his fellow councillors’ change of heart.
‘‘I think the funding model for most clubs is based around poker machines as an income,’’ Cr Rankin said
‘‘The business model at The Links is not working ... introducing this element of gaming can put the club back into the black.
‘‘Council has licences and should use them.’’
Cr Saliba said that during Monday night’s confidential meeting ‘‘a compelling argument’’ was given and said the council was already providing gambling through Keno and TAB facilities.
‘‘A gambler who is a problem gambler will use any opportunity to gamble, not just poker machines. Given there is already gambling in the facility it will not be adding to the problem,’’ Cr Saliba said.
‘‘We are competing with other like facilities with our hands tied behind our back if we don’t offer the same solutions other clubs do.’’
Cr Marsh said the report’s comparisons with other venues changed her mind.
‘‘Unfortunately there needs to be some dramatic changes. We saw some comparative figures with other venues ... and we already have the Keno down there.’’
Cr Marsh said she still believed accommodation, not poker machines would make The Links work.
She supported the subdivision of 42 lots which would be within ‘‘walking distance of the new multimillion-dollar train station’’.
‘‘We need a diverse income stream at The Links... at the moment if it rains we are in trouble,’’ Cr Marsh said.
Cr Peter Moran was angered by the council’s decision.
‘‘The vast majority of poker machine profits come from problem gamblers,’’ Cr Moran said.
‘‘The council will also be encouraging the growth of alcohol consumption by expanding the bar and proposing a drive-through bottle shop.’’
Cr Moran said the council was ‘‘desperate’’.
‘‘We are constantly being told that selling assets to fund operational costs in not sustainable, but now this is what we are doing with the subdivision.
‘‘This council continues to subsidise the sporting activities of one of the most advantaged groups in the community – middle class, well-off, white males who are the overwhelming members down there, but the council can’t afford to subsidise the Warilla Child Care centre, which is a much-needed facility in a disadvantaged area.’’
Poker machines and the sell-off of two greens and a fairway for housing are among the solutions Shellharbour City Council hopes will bring an end to the financial woes of The Links, Shell Cove.
The council-owned and operated golf course has cost Shellharbour ratepayers $7 million over the past decade and a three-year search for a new operator to take on the hotel and golf course lease has ended without success.
The Links was built in 2003 as part of the Shell Cove project and Shellharbour City Council has managed the facility since private managers were evicted in April, 2008.
In a confidential meeting on Monday night, the council resolved to keep the golf course in the hands of the council to manage under a new business plan and financial model.
Under the new plan the course will be reconfigured to allow development of land now occupied by the 8th green and 9th fairway and green adjacent to Dunmore Road.
The land would allow for the development of 42 housing lots which it is hoped will make a profit of $5million once development costs are taken into account.
From that profit, $3million will be used to upgrade the hotel and clubhouse – including a room to accommodate poker machines, while $2million will be put into a sinking fund, with income to be used to cover the course’s operational losses in the short term.
A council spokeswoman said the business plan also detailed operational changes to improve its market reach and appeal to the broader community, including improving marketing, exploring the feasibility of on-site accommodation and installing energy-efficient technologies to reduce environmental impacts and overheads.
Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba said the new plan moved council away from ‘‘its caretaker mode’’ and into ‘‘long-term business management’’ by applying a more enterprising approach.
‘‘The creation of new resourcing streams and the implementation of the new business model will help us take this viable business into surplus,’’ Cr Saliba said.
The council hopes to have a new business case up and running by the end of the financial year.