14 Oct

NRL clubs strike it rich on poker machines at players’ expense

The Canterbury Bulldogs have made plenty of headlines recently, but this time around, it’s not their performance on the field that’s attracted notice. Despite losing the grand finals to the South Sydney Rabbitohs just a week ago – a match in which they were fined $20,000 for delaying the start of the game – they have plenty to brag about, much to the dismay of anti-pokies organizations. The Bulldogs topped the list of highest earning clubs in the last fiscal year on poker machines.

Thanks to the NSW’s lawmakers, who chose to give preferential treatment to league clubs in the provision of poker machines, 11 of the 16 NRL teams shared in $350 million from pokies revenue. The Canterbury Bulldogs pulled in the highest amount of $74.9 million, followed by the second highest yielding league, the Penrith Panthers, with $65.7 million. The Parramatta Eels landed in the third spot, generating $49.9 million off the pokies.

While club owners and die hard league fans are pleased with the results, anti-pokie advocates are up in arms. That’s an awful lot of money flowing into the sports leagues, and its coming directly from the pockets of hard working citizens. Australians are famous for their love of poker machines, but reports of $350 million being lost in the last year at just 11 pokies clubs isn’t sitting well with those who disapprove of the increasing rate of problem gamblers throughout the nation.

Consent or condemn, some teams in the NRL depend on the revenue from pokies to stay afloat. The account records for the Parramatta Eels, for example, clearly depict a staunch reliance upon its club’s gambling revenue. The Eels produced $15.65 million over the fiscal year, but reported an overall loss of $6.6 million, compounding its collective losses of $40.7 million. The team’s Parramatta Leagues Club managed to cover the losses by providing the Eels with interest-free loans after the club generated $49.9 million in poker machine profits, plus a combined $5.1 million in catering and bar revenue.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Manly Sea Eagles and Cronulla Sharks recorded the lowest earnings from leagues clubs, generating $7.5 million and $6.9 million respectively from the pokies over the last year. Other leagues clubs that benefited from gambling were the Sydney Roosters ($36.7mm), Wests Tigers ($35.1mm), St. George Dragons ($31mm), Canberra Raiders ($18.6mm), Brisbane Broncos ($13.2mm) and North Old Cowboys ($10.2mm).

It’s a plain and simple fact that many of these clubs rely heavily on the losses of local residents who visit the leagues clubs to gamble. Anti-pokies advocates claim the link between gambling and sports is a critical one, further complicated by the popularity of rugby among the nation’s youth. They argue that the social cost is far too damaging to warrant the cause.

According to recent publications from government officials, gamblers in Australia lose “at least $4.7 billion a year”. The average loss per player was reported at $21,000 a year, and an estimated 1 in 6 people who regularly play the pokies is believed to have a “serious addiction”. Thus far, spokesmen for the NRL and Canterbury Bulldogs have offered no comment on the matter.