Do clubs really return their pokies millions to the community? The ABC’s 7.30 Report ran a good story this week about the contributions to the community by the Victorian RSL. There is some merit to the club lobby claims but the truth lies in the numbers. A michaelwest.com.au investigation of clubs in NSW and their opening hours shows the community rhetoric is greatly exaggerated.

In 2017, the top 25 clubs in NSW raked in approximately $1.35 billion in poker machine profits. For players, that meant $1.35 billion in  poker machine losses. For the state government, it meant hundreds of millions in tax revenue (across the clubs sector).

NSW is the biggest gambling state in the biggest gambling country in the world. Pokies are the biggest source of losses. And clubs are the biggest winners from this gambling; bigger than pubs, bigger than casinos. This is Australia’s Las Vegas without the glitz.

Despite the dazzling returns however, analysis of the 2017 financial accounts for these top 25 clubs – which includes Dee Why RSL, Dooleys Catholic Club, Mounties and a raft of other leagues and RSL clubs, mostly in Sydney’s West – shows donations of $24.2 million, or around 1.8 per cent of their poker machine profits.

Frankly, this is frankly chump change.

Clubs do use a fair chunk of poker machine profits to pay employees, of which there are many, and to fund community benefits like sports activities. It is commendable but, as such a tiny fraction of pokie profits, it is also underwhelming.

It appears that most of the poker machine profits after taxes and costs of doing business are used for “empire building”. The mega-complex of Dooleys’ Catholic Club at Lidcombe is an impressive example of this.

This is a real estate empire. Buried in notes to the financial statements you will find 42 registered properties that are part of, or on the outskirts, of the Wentworthville Leagues Club.  Some of the big Clubs in NSW are like hard-core monopoly gamers: buying up real estate, collecting rents and building hotels.

Holy Dooley, Catholic clubs make a killing from poker machines

The deluge of poker machine money in NSW clubs is financing big property purchases, big car parks, retirement villages, childcare centres, restaurant and sports complexes and now, takeovers, as evinced by the record deal for Mounties in Sydney’s West to take over and revamp the Harbord Diggers.

“The Diggers” now resembles a slice of Las Vegas on the headland between Freshwater and Curl Curl, all financed by the losses from gamblers. Ironically too, in light of the club lobby’s protestations that it is all about community, it is ironic that the glitzy Northern Beach project has been financed by the losses from gamblers in Sydney’s outer Western Suburbs.

This is surely not community. It is empire building.

Pokies: the Rise of the Machines

According to the Lifeline website:

It can be hard to know if your gambling is getting out of control. A common reaction is to minimise, hide or deny gambling problems and the harm it could be causing. Some people will lie to themselves and others about how much money or time is being spent on gambling.”

Minimising a gambling problem is not limited to people who sit at the poker machines.  The NSW clubs sector and the NSW government are also hooked, hooked on the cash flows of the machines, the poker machine profits and the poker machine taxes running at around 25 per cent of those profits.

NSW clubs, with Las Vegas style wall-to-wall poker machines, do tend to minimise, hide from and deny the social costs of gambling addiction for poker machine users.

NSW clubs approach poker machine gambling addiction using a philosophy of “We are not to blame, you are”. This is a philosophy that maximises the financial position of the clubs themselves, a philosophy based on greed.

On various club website’s there are problem gambling disclosures like this one:

THINK! ABOUT YOUR CHOICES
GAMBLING MORE, ENJOYING IT LESS
GAMBLING HELP 1800 858 858
WWW.GAMBLINGHELP.NSW.GOV.AU

But the clubs don’t think too long or hard about the choice between more or less gambling hours. When their patrons gamble more on poker machines, the clubs make more money; they buy more houses, build more, and refurbish more things.

As far as the Government is concerned though, it is enough for clubs to put out a few “do you have a problem” notices and offer help only after addicts have self-identified. Of course, poker machine addicts don’t usually think they have a problem until it is too late. Until they have, or nearly have, wiped themselves out financially and embroiled others, mostly family members, in their misery.

The general approach of the clubs, their management, and the government therefore can only be described is addict exploitation.

The tragic story of problem gambler Gary Van Duinen, the builder who took his own life after a thirteen hour gambling binge at the Dee Why RSL is a case in point. Van Duinen’s family had begged the RSL to step in and stop his gambling. They didn’t.

A former gambling-room server blew the whistle on the club’s practices of encouraging heavy gamblers to stay and keep spending at poker machines. These practices included personalised service and a program of rewards points for free drinks. According to the whistle blower, players like Gary Van Duinen would often be at the machines until dawn and would never need to pay for drinks.

Dee Why RSL: pokies, prodigious profits and personal tragedy

The civil liberties argument for poker machines is that people should be allowed the choice of self-destruction at a poker machine. Is there any argument that clubs should be allowed to actively fuel gambling addiction with alcohol and VIP service so at to profit from it?

The big clubs in NSW seem to be either ignorant or nonchalant about the damage done to individuals and families when gambling addiction is fuelled by access to poker machines in the early hours of the morning, that is, in Dracula time. A time when clubs apparently provide a special brand of personal service with complimentary alcohol or “rewards”.

Gladys versus Alan Jones and Australia’s most sackable chairman

The NSW government brought in lock-out laws to deal with alcohol-fuelled violence in the early hours. But it takes a more laissez-faire approach to alcohol-fuelled problem gambling at poker machines in the early hours. This is strange politics. A person who suicides after their financial ruin from playing poker machines is no less dead than someone king hit outside a club with irreparable brain damage.

It is unsurprising that in the early hours there is less scrutiny, more aggressive gaming room practices and more people with mental health issues. So why does the NSW government give the clubs free reign to prey on the vulnerable in the middle of the night?

The research is clear. There is an association between early hours access to poker machines and problem gambling. According to a Report on Problem Gambling from Auckland University of Technology, dated October 2004, legislation and policies that significantly increase access to electronic gaming machines generates increases in problem gambling and related flow-on costs to families and communities.

Fibros v Silvertails: picking the pokies premiership

The table below shows the weekly poker machines hours for the main premises of the Top 25 clubs in NSW.

Bankstown Sports Club and Canterbury League Club lead the pack with poker machines open all hours. But they are not alone in having excessive poker machine hours. On weekdays, there is poker machine action at 4am at Penrith Rugby League, Revesby Workers and Parramatta Leagues, South Sydney Juniors and Wests at Ashfield.

A decade ago, Revesby Workers closed its doors at 3am in the morning on weekdays.  Then it added an extra 15 hours a week by changing the closing time to 6am.  The change wasn’t made for members playing darts or carpet bowls. Why close at 3am when more poker machine profits can be gouged by staying open until 6am?

On average, the top 25 clubs in NSW are open for poker machine business 136.6 hours out of 168 hours per week or 81.3 per cent of the time. Therefore, the average machine downtime is 31.4 hours per week or less than 5 hours per day.

It would be nice if the NSW government acted against poker machine addiction being fuelled by excessive poker machine hours and free drinks in Dracula time. But the government are addicts too.  They are addicted to poker machine taxes. They are addicted to the political campaigning of the clubs and their industry body ClubsNSW. As the chief advocate of the big clubs in NSW, ClubsNSW helpfully points out in their annual report for 2017:

“If clubs must campaign, we must go hard and we must win.”

At the end of the day, poker machine profiteering is the main game. It is the campaign behind all the other campaigns.

In Dracula time, clubs like the Dee Why RSL go hard and win.

TOP 25 CLUBS IN NSW Trading Hours

Hours/

Week

Access
Bankstown Sports Club Mon-Sun: 0-24 168 100.0%
Canterbury League Club Mon-Sun: 0-24 168 100.0%
Penrith Rugby League Club Mon-Sun: 0-6, 9-24 147 87.5%
Revesby Workers’ Club Mon-Sun: 0-6, 9-24 147 87.5%
Parramatta Leagues Club Mon-Sun: 0-6, 9-24 147 87.5%
South Sydney Junior Rugby League Club Mon-Sun: 0-6, 9-24 147 87.5%
Western Suburbs Leagues Club (Ashfield) Mon-Sun: 0-6, 9-24 147 87.5%
Sutherland District Trade Union Club (Tradies)

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 8-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 8-24

144 85.7%
Wentworthville Leagues Club

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 9-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 8-24

139 82.7%
Western Suburbs (N’cle) Leagues Club

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 9-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 9-24

137 81.5%
Mingara Recreation Club

Mon-Fri: 0-3, 8½ -24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 8½ -24

135.5 80.7%
Western Suburbs League Club (Campbelltown)

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 9½-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 9-24

134.5 80.1%
Rooty Hill RSL Club

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 10-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 9-24

132 78.6%
Dee Why RSL Club

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 10-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 9-24

132 78.6%
Cabra-Vale Ex-Active Servicemen’s Club

Mon-Fri: 0-3, 9-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 9-24

132 78.6%
Dooleys Lidcombe Catholic

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 10-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 9-24

132 78.6%
St Marys Rugby League Club

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 10-24

Sat-Sun: 0-6, 9-24

132 78.6%
Mt Pritchard & District Community Club (Mounties)

Mon-Fri: 0-3, 9-24

Sat-Sun: 0-5, 9-24

130 77.4%
St Johns Park Bowling Club

Mon-Fri: 0-3, 9-24

Sat-Sun: 0-5, 9-24

130 77.4%
St George Leagues Club

Mon-Fri: 0-4, 10-24

Sat: 0-6, 11-24

Sun: 0-6, 10-24

129 76.8%
Workers Blacktown

Mon-Fri: 0-3, 9-24

Sat-Sun: 0-4, 9-24

128 76.2%
Campbelltown Catholic Club Mon-Sun: 0-4, 10-24 126 75.0%
Liverpool Catholic Club

Mon-Fri: 0-3, 10-24

Sat-Sun: 0-3, 9-24

121 72.0%
Commercial Club (Albury)

Mon: 8-24

Tues-Fri: 0-1, 8-24

Sat-Sun: 0-2, 8-24

120 71.4%
Twin Towns Services Club

Mon-Fri: 9-24

Sat-Sun: 1-3, 9-24

111 66.1%

 

Next Time Out: Corporate Governance NSW Club Style.

———————-

Love a flutter? Here’s a flutter!

Public support is vital so this website can continue to fund investigations and publish stories which speak truth to power. Please subscribe for the free newsletter, share stories on social media and, if you can afford it, tip in $5 a month.