Four Victorian AFL clubs received more than $40m from poker machines in the last financial year, enraging harm reduction advocates and fan groups.
Figures from the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission confirm Carlton is still the club most reliant on pokies. It pocketed $19.1m from 290 machines at four venues – an average of $65,954 per machine.
Richmond received $4.6m through 97 machines at the Wantirna Club in Melbourne’s east, averaging $47,573 per machine. St Kilda took $1.8m from 83 machines at its Moorabbin base.
Essendon received $14.7m from 190 machines at two venues which, according to the advocacy group No Pokies at Essendon, is the biggest total since 2007. The group’s president, Mike Read, said the club recorded big losses on field this year – and big gambling losses off it.
“In recent years we have seen AFL clubs rush to get out of the pokies business, recognising the immense social harm they cause,” Read said.
“Essendon, instead, points to the revenue that gaming machines provide the football club, as though yet another disappointing season on-field justifies the continued damage that the predatory machines inflict.”
The No Pokies at Essendon group has the support of one lifelong Bombers fan in federal parliament, the independent MP Zoe Daniel, who said football clubs should not be “preying on their supporters to make money out of gambling”.
“This is a flawed business model that bleeds money from the most vulnerable in our communities and targets young people,” Daniel said.
An Essendon spokesperson said “the reality is that given the transition out of Covid, the club is still reliant on the revenue generated from our gaming machines and any decision on the long-term future of our venues will need to be carefully considered by the board”.
“The financial stability and independence of the club is paramount, and we won’t compromise that by making a rushed short-term decision,” the spokesperson said.
Richmond, St Kilda, Essendon and Carlton are members of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s Love the Game initiative, which aims to raise awareness of gambling harm among youth.
Carol Bennet, the chief executive of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, questioned the clubs’ involvement in the initiative given they had accepted millions of dollars in gambling revenue.
“If you are raking in the money from your poker machines you can clearly afford to be picky about your sponsors,” Bennet said.
“If they are really committed to success as a football team and supporting their local communities, they should take a leaf out of Collingwood, Melbourne, Geelong and the Western Bulldogs playbook – all have ditched pokies and won seven premierships between them since they did.”
North Melbourne was the first Victorian AFL club to turn its back on pokies in 2008. Eight years later it was still the only club without pokies and its leadership team rejected claims it was only able to divest because it received handouts from the AFL.
“There are other clubs who get the same if not more than us (from the AFL) who do have gaming, so that refutes that argument straight away,” the club’s then chief executive Carl Dilena said at the time.
In July 2022, Hawthorn sold its two poker machine venues in Caroline Springs and Mulgrave. Collingwood announced it was quitting the industry in 2018 and sold its 156 machines to the Melbourne Racing Club.
Collingwood’s former president, Eddie McGuire, described the sale as “a prudent commercial decision” with the revenue from machine sales put into a future fund to help the club become an “independent and progressive sports club”.
Samantha Thomas, a gambling researcher at Deakin University, said the Victorian government needed to “urgently implement buyback schemes” to help all AFL clubs get out of pokies.
“The last thing we want is for machines to just be sold on to continue to cause harm,” Thomas said.
“Substantially reducing the number of machines in the community is one of the clearest ways that we prevent the harms from these products and to rebuild healthier communities.”
Gambling reform advocates estimate that about 40% of losses from electronic gaming machines come from high-risk gamblers.
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