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How much pokies revenue are RSL’s giving back to veterans?

Wed, Apr 24, 1:31pm by Staff Writer

The revenue generated by the RSL network is under the microscope once again ahead of Anzac Day this Thursday.

The Age is reporting that just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars generated by Victoria’s RSL network is being spent on the welfare of war veterans, according to analysis by a group of young returned service people.

The group is planning to contest leadership position at the RSL state conference in July and estimates that as little as $1 million of the $300 million in revenue generated in 2017 by the RSL’s poker machines has been spent on veteran welfare.

The figure has fuelled concerns that the RSL has lost touch with its mission of caring for serving and ex-serving men and women of the Australian Defence Force.

“The RSL was founded to support returning service personnel and to provide a haven for veterans,” said Lucas Moon, a 40-year-old who served in the army in East Timor and is a leading advocate for change.

“But the RSL’s focus on gaming has been at the cost of its support to veterans. These gaming clubs are not for us and nor is the money they’re generating,” Mr Moon said.

Entertainment and food not part of the original plan

Of the 165,000 RSL members statewide, only 24,000 are returned servicemen and women.

Many are social members who enjoy the relatively inexpensive drink, food, entertainment and gaming promoted by the RSL clubs.

Running a commercial hospitality business for the wider community was not the RSL’s original mission, said MR Moon, a chartered accountant who has pored over RSL accounts for the past two years.

The Victorian RSL is made up of a central state organization plus about 280 semi-autonomous local sub branches.

Of the sub branches, 52 have poker machines that generated about $300 million in revenue in 2017.

The profit from gaming clubs in 2017 was $8.4 million.

Mr Moon’s analysis of sub branch statutory accounts indicates that some clubs are spending nothing on direct veteran welfare in some years.

His summary is broadly supported by research from the City of Greater Dandenong, which has opposed more pokies for the Dandenong RSL.

Its analysis of RSL sub-branch disclosure of “community benefit” spending to the state government also points to some clubs contributing nothing directly to veteran welfare.

The RSL state president Dr Robert Webster told The Age that $9.8 million of gaming club revenue was spent on community and veteran welfare and charity in 2017.

However, Victorian gaming providers are legally required to spend a small portion of gaming revenue on approved community purposes or activities.

The $9.8 million includes spending, for instance, on grants to local sporting clubs and charities, and on subsidized meals for customers.

Dr Webster acknowledged that he did not know specifically how much of the $9.8 million was spent on veteran welfare.

He said the sub-branch figures did not provide that level of detail.

Tabcorp sponsors machines

What is known about the RSL’s annual fundraising campaigns, the Anzac and poppy appeals generate about $6 million a year.

These funds make up the bulk of the RSL’s contribution to veteran welfare.

Mr Moon said the RSL involvement in gaming was a “terrible investment for veterans.”

“We have $500 million in assets in these clubs for a return of $1 million in veteran welfare,” he said.

The RSL’s involvement in gaming has always been shrouded in controversy since poker machines were legislated in the early 1990s.

The reformers are critical of the close relationship the RSL has formed with Tabcorp, which has contracts to manage the machines.

There are currently about 2,800, in all but a handful of the RSL gaming venues.

The Age is reporting that Tabcorp earns revenue of about $30 million alone from its poke contract with the RSL.

Tabcorp provides $500,000 a year in corporate sponsorship to the RSL as part of a $5 million, 10-year sponsorship deal described by Mr Moon as a “potential conflict of interest”.

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