By Shelby Brooks
Forty poker machines are included in a $4 million plan to renovate Kooweerup’s iconic Royal Hotel.
The proposed upgrades would see the Station Street pub’s drive-through bottle shop demolished to make way for a gaming room and 20 seat cafe, while the “derelict” upstairs floor would be transformed into three function spaces.
Royal Hotel venue manager Francis Deegan said the second floor of the hotel had been unused for 40 to 50 years so was the logical place to expand for function rooms without encroaching on the bistro and bar down stairs.
“In the last six years we’ve had lot of enquires about hosting functions,” Mr Deegan said.
“There is really a lot of work to do upstairs, it’s quite derelict up there so the question was how do we afford the upgrades and that’s when the gaming came into it.”
Mr Deegan also said the drive-through bottle shop trade was “almost non-existent” since the opening of the BWS across the street at the Woolworths.
The introduction of 40 electronic gambling machines (EGMs) was described in the planning report number T200808 submitted to the Cardinia Shire Council as having, “some key positive social and economic benefits” by providing locals entertainment and employment opportunities.
Mr Deegan said the number 40 was based off the Cardinia Park Hotel’s current facilities, which he and his family also manage.
“Forty seems to be a comfortable number,” he said.
The gaming lounge would only be accessible from Moody Street, via the proposed cafe, in order to “provide a less convenient entry point”.
“The 20km extended catchment area around the hotel is not deemed to be high-risk to problem gambling impacts, as studied through socio-economic indicia,” the permit reads.
“The physical location of the hotel on the western extremity of the activity centre is suitable given the gaming lounge is not to be advertised from Station St.”
Currently, the closest poker machines to Kooweerup are 11km away at the Tooradin Sports Club, which currently has 46 EGMs.
The idea of the café came from wanting to offer breakfast and lunch options, Mr Deegan said.
“The cafe will be a bit more casual than the bistro and help tick all the boxes for those wanting to pay $5-$10 or $30-$40 at the bistro,” he said.
A “community hub” would also be built in conjunction with the gaming area, with iPads, computers, newspapers and information bulletins, “for members of the town to utilise on an ad hoc basis”.
“We are family owned with a family friendly focus and want to focus on creating good quality food in a good quality environment,” Mr Deegan said.
“The previous owners had turned their back a bit on the community but we want to that community hub that pubs used to be.”
Mr Deegan said the hotel was working with a local builder who had plans to employ local tradies for the upgrades.
He also said the the addition of the poker machines would allow the hotel to continue to support the community such as the local football and bowls clubs.
Local businessman Malcolm Brown said it would be a “bit sad” if the town introduced poker machines.
“I’m old enough to remember when pokies first came to Victoria and decimated the retail sector at the time,” he said.
“I’m not against it for the income of the pub, it’s just unfortunate they feel they need to do that.
“I do think it will have a negative result for retail in the town.”
Fellow resident Gary King said the plans for the upstairs function rooms would be “fabulous” for the hotel and the town, but questioned whether the addition of the pokies would keep the hotel “family friendly”.
Built in 1915, the Royal Hotel is iconic for its red and white arched facade.
It is heritage overlayed, though renovations and extensions have occurred over the recent years.
The hotel is also applying to almost double its patronage, from 262 to 400.
It’s estimated the hotel would employ 14 more casual staff and five or five more full-time staff to meet the increased business anticipated by the upgraded facilities.
Any objections to the planning permit must be sent to the Cardinia Shire Council, PO Box 7, Pakenham, Vic, 3810 or emailed to email@example.com before Wednesday 5 May.