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Should Pokies Be Available in RSL Clubs?

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One of the longest running and most contentious debates in Australia centers around pokies, otherwise known as electronic poker machines or slot machines. In most parts of Australia, pokies can be found in pubs and clubs, most linked to jackpots and some offering multi-line individual games. A new debate has now stirred, however, centering around the proliferation of pokies in RSLs.

Pokies in RSLs

The existence of pokies and other games in casinos is one debate. After all, casinos provide gambling services.. People are therefore more easily able to make a choice to enter a casino or not. The heart of the debate about pokies, however, centers on their prevalence in pubs and clubs.

Now, one group is taking a stand, and that group is tough to ignore. Young military veterans are making their voices heard. This group of people haven’t necessarily grown up with gambling. Instead, they have returned from their service to find their RSLs filled with pokies.

RSLs may now be forced to confront the issue of pokies contributing to their revenue. Furthermore, the country as a whole may have to look at ways to better finance the facilities so pokies aren’t necessary.

ABC Report

It is a very recent report from ABC that is bringing the subject of pokies in RSLs into the spotlight.

The article focuses on young veterans that spoke to ABC about their concerns.

One veteran was discharged with incapacity payments but spent time in clubs to pass the time. Eventually, he started playing more pokies and developed a habit, then an addiction. RSL should provide a sense of community among fellow veterans. However, his visits soon turned into a solo experience in which he lost most of his cheques in machines.

A former Army officer, David Petersen, has now organised a group of veterans to campaign against pokies in RSLs based in Victoria. “The RSL should not be in the business of running poker machines for multiple reasons,” he said, “but principally it doesn’t make us a lot of money. I don’t think the community knows about that. They think that they put this $1 in the machine, money comes out at the other end for veterans. And it’s not true.”

100-Year History

The Returned and Services League (RSL) of Australia is an organisation to support men and women who return from serving in the Defence Force.

It started in 1916 when members of the service returned from fighting in World War I. The organisation then expanded in the following years, ultimately encompassing all parts of Australia to represent the interests of veterans. There was a time when its membership swayed too far toward militia groups and extremism group recruitment. However, the RSL continued to evolve.

The 1990 iteration of the RSL is reflective of what the clubs stand for today; a source of services, safe environment, and friendship for veterans.

Unfortunately, RSLs struggled to find funds to run their clubs and provide services. As a result, they subsequently welcomed pokies over the last several decades for their revenue. Young veterans are pointing out the real numbers, though. They say the RSLs aren’t the main benefactor, and the costs for members of the clubs are too high.

In Victoria, there are approximately 280 RSL clubs, and 52 of them bank on pokies. According to ABC reporting, those RSLs in Victoria took in $8 million in profit from pokies in 2017. However, that number was a small percentage of the $260 million in revenue that the machines actually generated. And of the remainder of the revenue, only about $9.8 million went into government-sponsored welfare programs for veterans and the community at large.

As it turns out, RSL members who most fervently support pokies in RSLs are older veterans. In other words, those who have been accustomed to the environment since they returned from wars decades ago. New veterans are not used to the gambling offered and are more vulnerable to addiction.

Big Voices Vs Big Money

The young veterans plan to talk to the owners of more clubs and work with government officials to find other ways to support service members. And they may find comradeship with groups that have long battled pokies, such as Rein in the Pokies and Bad Bets Australia. Those groups have found funding through the millionaire owner of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) and others who support the cause.

Meanwhile, Tabcorp recently sponsored RSLs to the tune of $500,000 in return for supplying 2,800 poker machines to the clubs in Victoria. The arrangement is a commercial one. Nevertheless, some say it has swayed the views of club owners to the side of Tabcorp rather than the veterans themselves.

Some RSL owners say they are looking at other ways to garner revenue. But for now, they are not in a position to reject much-needed money from the likes of Tabcorp.