The Illawarra schools and hospitals getting donations tied to new poker machines

Payout: Coledale Hospital (top) got $45,000 from Headlands Hotel after it applied to get 10 new gaming machine licences (background), while Austinmer Public School (below) received $30,000. Pictures: Adam McLean.
Payout: Coledale Hospital (top) got $45,000 from Headlands Hotel after it applied to get 10 new gaming machine licences (background), while Austinmer Public School (below) received $30,000. Pictures: Adam McLean.

One Illawarra public hospital and three public primary schools have, in recent years, accepted offers of large cash donations from local pubs and clubs tied to an increase in poker machines in those venues.

Coledale Hospital is among more than a dozen state hospitals to share in $1.3 million in donations conditioned upon nearby pokie venues successfully applying to operate extra machines.

The northern Illawarra aged care and rehabilitation centre received $45,000 from Headlands Hotel in 2016, after the redeveloped resort sought to bump up its gaming machines from the four held at the old pub to 14.

Austinmer Public School also received $30,000 from the Headlands resort, under the NSW government's Local Impact Assessment (LIA) scheme.

In a pending application, yet to be approved, Peterborough School will be the recipient of a $14,000 grant under the same scheme if Shellharbour’s Ocean Beach hotel is allowed four extra gaming machines.

Both schools said they were not aware that the money was linked to an increase in the number of poker machines at the venues. 

The LIA scheme is intended to offset the harm of concentrating more machines in particular areas by offering donations to charities and other community organisations. Venues are required to demonstrate to the gaming authority that the “proposed increase in the gaming machine threshold will have an overall positive impact on the local community”.

According to an education department spokeswoman, Austinmer Public School’s donation was made to the P&C.

“The school understands that this was a gift and was not aware it was related to an LIA submitted by the hotel,” the spokeswoman said.

“The funds are held by the P&C and are to be used to purchase new playground equipment at the school.”

The spokeswoman said Peterborough School had not yet received funds from the Ocean Beach Hotel at this time.

“The school and school community were aware that the funds promised to the school were from Ocean Beach Hotel but not specifically related to an LIA,” she said.

The school said it “welcomes donations from a range of businesses and community organisations to support programs for its students with additional special needs”.

Based on the LIA register, there have been four approved applications from Illawarra pubs and clubs, resulting in an increase of 36 machines (not including the proposed four at the Ocean Beach Hotel) in the past five years.

According to the register, Unanderra Public School is the third public school to be the recipient of cash, receiving $8,000 from Wests Illawarra after the club successfully applied for 20 extra gaming machine licences in 2013.

A long list of other community organisations also received cash from Wests, including Mission Australia, the Disability Trust, Camp Quality, Top Blokes, St Vincent de Paul Society, Youth Off The Streets and the troubled Australian Aerial Patrol.

Some charities (including St Vincent de Paul Society) have now started to reject any future funding offers, due to concerns about linking donations to communities groups and charities with the expansion of gambling facilities.

Recently, the Salvation Army – a prominent advocate for gambling reform – backed away from a $52,000 donation agreement with the Waterworks Hotel in Botany, which had applied for an extra four poker machines.

After Fairfax Media inquired about the donation, the Salvation Army said it would no longer accept it.

“The Salvation Army does not support any conditional donations that utilises our brand and reputation to increase the presence of gambling in our community. It is against Salvation Army policy and is contrary to our organisational values,” a spokesman said.

Without organisations agreeing to accept these donations, pubs and clubs would be unable to prove the “positive impact” requirement and would likely have their gaming machine applications refused.

NSW Health department issued a statement defending the donation scheme.

"These donations support activities across hospitals, and make a difference to the health and wellbeing of our patients and their families," a NSW Health spokeswoman said

But a Monash University public health professor Charles Livingstone, a critic of the gambling industry, said organisations that accepted funding through this process were complicit in the harm caused by pokie machines.

“In reality they are participating in inflicting significant levels of harm on the community, and some of that harm is going to come back and they are going to have to pick up the cost,” he said.

“Any organisation that is genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of the community would not lend themselves to this legitimation practice.”