The latest move by the owners of the South Sydney Rabbitohs – Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court – has caused more consternation among their fellow NRL Club officials than all their PR stunts and innovations this season combined.
Crowe and Holmes a Court want to remove poker machines permanently from the South Sydney Leagues Club when it reopens after the major renovations made possible by their acquisition of the Rabbitohs.
Since poker machines were introduced in NSW in 1956 they have met a significant share of the cost of running the football clubs. Football clubs backed by large and profitable leagues clubs – such as St George and Manly – were for years able to buy the best players in the game thanks to the profits from those clubs.
Without poker machine revenue, the game would never have become fully professional, Super League or no Super League.
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Queensland did not get poker machines until the early 1990’s and until then the rich basically had their pick of the best Queensland players because the Brisbane clubs did not have the finances to keep them.
In recent years, the salary cap has evened up the position, but the clubs which today have successful leagues clubs – Penrith Panthers is one of the largest and most successful clubs in NSW – still have an advantage over clubs that don’t.
But the move by Crowe and Holmes a Court to take poker machines out of their club will infuriate just about every other NSW based NRL club. And they will cause some inconvenience to the NRL itself.
The NRL and its clubs have been lobbying the NSW Government to reduce poker machine taxes. Increases in taxes in recent years have been used an as excuse by the NRL, and by most clubs, to resist any major increase in the salary cap.
A couple of NRL clubs are believed to be in dire financial straits because of extra poker machine taxes and they will hardly be impressed that one NRL club is planning to get rid of them altogether.
The NRL itself has expressed concern about the viability of a number of clubs unless state gaming machine taxes are reduced. But the impact extends far beyond the NRL premiership clubs – all clubs have feeder and juniors clubs which have a large dependence on grants from their own licensed clubs.
Rabbitohs Executive Chairman, Peter Holmes a Court, in a piece of in today’s Sydney Morning Herald cites the socially harmful aspects of poker machines as the reason why they want to get rid of machines from their club. Enlightened corporatism? You be the judge:
A football club exists in the community in a symbiotic relationship. We’re there to represent the community on the field and we exist because of their support. We survive today because of the support of average Australians who buy membership, merchandise and tickets to support their club – and the support of companies, large and small, which sponsor the club. When it comes to corporate social responsibility, our sponsors, from the local print shop to Virgin Blue, are telling us the more that we do in the community, the more they’ll support us; and our members are saying the more that you do in the community the more that we want to support our club.They have ignited a debate about poker machines that will leave just about all their fellow NRL club officials uncomfortable – and unhappy. And their revolutionary proposal has been met just as unenthusiastically by Victorian AFL clubs…
There is no reason to believe that the only thing that makes clubs profitable is gaming machines. We want to attract more people to the club by creating a family environment with good food and opportunities for fans to meet and greet our players. A lot of people find that difficult to really enjoy a cleansing ale when they see someone in the background putting money into a machine.
They have ignited a debate about poker machines that will leave just about all their fellow NRL club officials uncomfortable – and unhappy. And their revolutionary proposal has been met just as unenthusiastically by Victorian AFL clubs.
NRL club officials looked on with amusement when the new Rabbitohs owners dressed up players in Armani suits, and replaced the cheer squad with drummers. There will be a very different response this time.