Michael Pascoe: How the pokies lobby comes after politicians

A closer look at clubs’ annual reports show the community won’t be hit hard by gaming reforms, Michael Pascoe writes.

A closer look at clubs’ annual reports show the community won’t be hit hard by gaming reforms, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: AAP/Reuters

There’s a quick way to tell if an electronic gaming machine policy is good or bad: If ClubsNSW is backing it, it will be bad – simply aimed at maximising the industry winning and people losing.

Thus the 500-machine cashless card “trial” pushed by the gaming lobby and adopted by its Labor clients is crook – a means of delaying reform,  open to fiddling and intrinsically half-arsed.

And here’s a quick demonstration of what happens to independent politicians who stand up to ClubsNSW: The machine will come after you.

There are three NSW independent MPs who bailed from the Shooters and Fishers Party. One of them, Helen Dalton, the member for Murray, is unapologetically backing the NSW Crime Commission’s recommendation of cashless gaming.

NSW Greens Cate Faehrmann and independent Helen Dalton at the launch of the Put Pokies in Their Place campaign in November. Photo: AAP

Cue the ClubsNSW machine.

On January 10, Ms Dalton’s local paper, the Swan Hill Guardian, headlined “Club anger over gaming cards”.

“The introduction of mandatory cashless gaming cards to all NSW clubs is ‘significant government overreach’ that will ‘devastate’ the industry, according to Murray Downs Golf and Country Club chief executive Greg Roberts,” reported the paper.

“Representative body ClubsNSW has launched a campaign, Gaming Reform the Right Way, to counter the NSW government’s proposed cashless gaming card and, in particular, independent MP Helen Dalton, who has joined a coalition of independent MPs calling for gambling reform.”

Talking points

And on it runs, 42 paragraphs of mainly ClubsNSW talking points, quoting the golf and gaming club CEO and the ClubsNSW chief, former Labor political staffer, Josh Landis.

Helen Dalton was afforded six and four paragraphs in the articles. Photo: AAP

Tucked away well down in the body of the story, Ms Dalton is accorded six paragraphs which are then afforded lengthy rebuttal by the pokies men.

Those six pars were better than Ms Dalton received three days later when the Guardian and the lobby were back at it with “Cashless gaming plan will ‘devastate’ clubs”, this time quoting the Euston Bowling and Recreation Club CEO Guy Fielding, running the lines in a 35-paragraph spray. Ms Dalton’s case was limply accorded just the final four of those 35.

“More clubs along the Murray border say they have been dealt a joker by a push to impose mandatory cashless gaming cards on all NSW clubs to curb problem gambling,” begins the Guardian (no relation to The Guardian) story.

The article is paywalled but I’ve done the reading for you. In my opinion, the spin attempted by the two clubs ranges from the risible to laughable.

There’s the NRA-style, cooker-ish “beware of government” stuff:

“This will allow the government to track patrons’ gambling activity and impose limits on how they spend their own money. Regular people don’t want the government to track their gambling. Assistance already exists for someone who may have a problem.”

Mr Roberts added many of the members still used cash and were “scared” about submitting their sensitive information to the government in light of recent data hacks.

Cue Euston’s Mr Fielding:

“They are taking away people’s ability to spend their money,” he said.

“Take gambling out of it, what other things are the government going to introduce? … What are they wanting to control next?”

Follow the money

The Murray Downs Golf and Country Club contributed more than $90,000 to the community from gaming revenue of $5 million in 2021. Photo:

There’s the usual Big Gaming line about clubs being genuinely concerned about problem gambling and suggesting there are already adequate systems in place to help people.

Yeah, right. That’s always worth a wry smile, but the really funny stuff is the impression given that these poor struggling community organisations would be “devastated” by any reduction in their gaming machine take.

The Murray Downs Golf and Country Club latest annual report is for the year ended December 31, 2021 – a year hurt by COVID-19 border closures so that gaming revenue (i.e. what players lost) was “only” $5 million, down 23 per cent on the normal 2019 year’s $6.5 million.

Despite COVID and helped by government grants, the club still recorded a million-dollar profit and finished the year sitting on $3.8 million in cash and retained profits of $17.7 million.

And out of those riches, “the club contributes more than $90,000 in annual community contributions,” CEO Roberts told the Swan Hill Guardian.

I presume that number is out of a much richer 2022 performance with the border open, but let’s just compare it with the cash pile at the end of 2021 – to use a technical term, bugger-all.

The Euston Club made $10.3 million in the 2021-22 financial year. Photo:

The latest Euston Bowling and Recreation Club annual report is for the 2021-22 financial year and thus includes some better trading months than the 2021 calendar year.

The annual report is at least honest about what the place is: “The principal activities of the economic entity during the financial year were hospitality, gaming.”

I’d put “gaming” first though – it totally dominates the club. Of total receipts of $13.3 million in the last financial year, $10.3 million came from gaming – that is, what gamblers lost on Euston’s 128 machines – delivering a gaming net profit of $7.1 million.

The average NSW machine return rate would mean more than $100 million was put through Euston’s machines.

Euston finished last year sitting on $6 million in cash and net assets of $31.7 million.

The club’s bottom line for the year was a net profit of $4.15 million.

Community donations

Sure, a reduction of a few per cent in pokies profits would “devastate” the industry.

As reliable as what bears do in the woods, Euston’s CEO trotted out the community donations line.

He said venues, such as the Euston club, provided regular funding to schools, sporting clubs and hospitals and a loss in revenue would mean less funds for the community.

“We donated $450,000 through the club grants last year alone,” Mr Fielding said.

That must be the 2022 calendar year. The 2021-22 annual report showed donations of $208,447 – the minimum 2 per cent of profits the club has to pay to get its tax break.

I’m guessing Euston might have paid its 2021-22 donations in the second half of that financial year and paid its 2022-23 donations in the first half to achieve the $450,000 “last year alone”.

Oh, did I mention Euston carries its poker machine entitlements as a $2.5 million asset? That’s just what the licences to have the machines – licences that can be traded between clubs – are worth.

There’s also the usual line about what it might cost to convert machines to cashless gaming, but that’s a fraction of the profits the machines make each year.

The Guardian quotes ClubsNSW CEO Landis promising more such spinning:

ClubsNSW chief executive Josh Landis said clubs in the region were joining Moama Bowling Club as third-party political campaigners because Ms Dalton’s approach meant they had no other options.

“As we come out of COVID lockdowns and floods, clubs around NSW are looking to their MPs for support, not uninformed attacks on their right to exist,” Mr Landis said.

“As I talk with clubs, what is abundantly clear to me is they are unhappy about how they have been treated as a political plaything, while the good they do for their communities has been ignored.

“The Murray River clubs are the first to launch a campaign, but those clubs are not alone in being angry.”

Independents Phil Donato and Roy Butler are backing ClubsNSW. Photo: AAP

Those other two regional former-Fishers-and-Shooters-turned-independents, the member for Orange, Phil Donato, and Barwon, Roy Butler? Oh, they’re backing ClubsNSW.

Ms Dalton has demonstrated what they might expect if they don’t.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.