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Young vets lobbying for RSL changes

Fri, Apr 26, 1:35pm by Staff Writer

Young Australian military veterans in the Returned and Services League (RSL) are lobbying for changes to the RSL clubs and specifically want to see the removal of electronic poker machines.

Calvin Ayre is reporting that their goal is to provide better support to veterans and to remove the temptation that the machines offer.

In Victoria alone there are 280 RSL clubs.

Of those, 52 offer poker machines, but former Army officer David Petersen is pushing for their removal.

He is also leading a campaign that would provide greater welfare payments to vets and stricter control of gambling machines in veteran-related facilities.

The 32-year-old is the president of the Camberwell RSL club, where no machines are allowed.

He doesn’t believe the RSL needs to be involved in the gambling industry in any form, including by offering the machines and argues that they have never generated enough revenue for the organisation to warrant their use.

The 52 RSL clubs receive revenue of around US$182.9 million in 2017.

Of this, only $1.8 million was profit.

Four per cent of that was directed towards veterans welfare and community programs.

Petersen has some resistance to his campaign.

Brigadier Michael Annett, the state secretary of the Victorian RSL believes that $6.8 million “to a greater or less degree” is used to support vets, but adds that another $4.78 million is redirected to vet programs, as well.

Poker and other gambling machines have come under scrutiny in Australia in recent times, with a greater public push to have them either banned completely or limited.

Opponents argue that they’re too easy a target for gamblers and offer stakes that result in significant losses of personal income.

The UK has also recognised the issue, recently instituting a mandatory cap on similar machines – fixed odds betting terminals – of $2.59 compared to the previous $129.

Addiction and gambling problem questions aside, the poker machines have not proven to be beneficial to the RSL.

Several of the clubs in Victoria have shut down over the past decade because of financial difficulties.

If the machines had been lucrative enough, they would have been able to help keep the clubs afloat.

If they can’t even do that, there’s no way they can generate enough revenue to help the vets.

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.

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