After months of efforts to ban poker machines by the owners of the South Sydney Leagues sports club in Australia, the club’s recently-elected board delivered a decisive vote against the measure. The club’s owners, Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court, were disappointed but vowed to find other ways to reduce the negative impact of the “pokies” on the club’s patrons.
Crowe and Holmes a Court initiated their quest to remove the 160 poker machines from the club in 2007 on the basis that research reports showed approximately half of the money spent on those games came from welfare payments. And their preliminary efforts found that the former small board of the club agreed, as in December of 2007, they voted 4-3 to remove the machines. However, two of the opposing members vowed to appeal the decision.
The decision was brought before a new board overseeing the South Sydney Leagues Club, and of the 100 members who voted, only three supported the proposal to ban poker machines in the club. The club’s president, Bill Alexiou-Hucker, noted that despite more support for the proposal than the vote indicated, the deciding factor happened to be a financial one.
“No one – not one charity, no corporations, no community that flooded the football club with congratulations over a no-poker machine venue – ever contacted me to see how they could help us,” Alexiou-Hucker said. “We were left to do it… The board felt it couldn’t offer the members the sorts of things that it wants to without the poker machines.
According to another board member, the $3.5 million annual income would have been cut in half without the poker machines. Other clubs have already experienced financial hardships due to recent non-smoking regulations, which caused 25 clubs to close or merge with other clubs to stay open. In addition, the clubs expect sizable rent increases that will also cut into their bottom line. Most of the board members, with a fiduciary responsibility to do what was best for the club, decided that this wasn’t the time to do away with the revenue-producing poker machines.
Mr. Holmes a Court hoped that the arguments in favor of the ban would resonate with the board despite the defeat, and he and Crowe do plan to look to increase other revenue in the club in order to decrease its dependence on the machines. “Utopia exists a long way from here and we’re just trying to make progress every day,” he said.