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Victorian RSL wants to push away pokies

Mon, Mar 11, 3:15pm by Staff Writer

The Victorian RSL’s younger members are imploring the league to steer clear of poker machines. Veterans, including those from Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor are campaigning for reform ahead of the RSL state conference in July, where they will propose constitutional change.

The veterans argue that young members are not interested in the clubs or were struggling with post-service mental health issues that were prone to problem gambling.

This made the presence of pokies in many RSL clubs a welcome problem, according to The Age.

A 32-year-old Afghanistan veteran Dave Petersen was medically discharged for mental health reasons.

He was a former army artilleryman and is now president of the Camberwell sub-branch.

He is the youngest sub-branch president in Victoria and is the leader of a group of veterans challenging the old guard.

Mr Petersen said the RSL management and executive was dominated by older men, mostly Vietnam veterans, who had been convinced that gaming would be a gold mine for the organisation.

There are no women on the RSL Victoria executive.

Comrades of Mr Petersen have recently found themselves questioning the financial merits of pokies and highlighting other negatives of RSL culture.

“The problem with big gaming clubs is that they’re focused on drawing in pokie players from the wider community, rather than on looking after veterans,” Mr Petersen said.

“Pokies, cheap parmas and pots for the general punter. That’s what these clubs are about. Younger vets look at these clubs and see nothing there for them,” he said.

Melbourne Storm the latest to sell off pokies

A shift away from gaming revenue would be seismic for the RSL, which embraces pokies when they were first introduced to Victoria in the early 1990s.

The push for change comes as sporting clubs have also come under pressure to exit the gaming industry.

The Melbourne Storm is the latest professional sporting organisation to divest themselves from gaming interests after the club sold its poker machines.

Victoria’s only NRL club is privately owned by a conglomerate including caravan magnate Gerry Ryan and bookmaker Matt Tripp.

The group sold the Kealba Hotel in Melbourne’s north-west, including its 172 poker machine licenses to IPR Hotels last month.

The hotel in St Albans was the only Storm-related pokies holding and is a site where punters lost the fourth-highest amount of money out of nearly 500 venues in Victoria.

Losses at the venue neared A$20 million in 2018.

The Victorian government’s gambling regulator has indicated that poker machine licenses are valued at approximately A$13 million.

The sale of the license and the hotel points to a significant windfall for the 2018 NRL

Grand Finalist’s, who purchased the venue for A$10 million in 2015.

Of the 250 RSL sub-branches in Victoria, more than 50 have poker machines.

The pokie clubs made more than $200 million a year through player losses, making the RSL Victoria’s second biggest pokies operator in Victoria after Woolworths/ALH.

A modest profit margin across gaming venues is boosted by interest-free loans and capital provision from the Victorian RSL’s building fund, meaning that some of the gaming venues actually run at a loss.

Mr Petersen said very little pokie money found its way into veteran welfare.

He said the RSL would be better off rationalizing local clubs, selling pokie licenses and either selling or leasing the valuable real estate needed to house and operate pokies.

Last Sunday, the Camberwell city RSL sub-branch held a public barbecue and gave away $10,000 to help local veterans.

The event was intended to show how a traditional, non-pokie RSL club could be profitable and genuinely help veterans.

The reform group is working on building RSL membership, including rebuilding dormant sub-branches and trying to attract veterans from recent military conflicts into the organisation.


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