The timing of today’s story in The Age — claiming AFL clubs are increasingly relying on gaming machine revenue, and maybe even rorting the community benefit scheme – could not come at a more inconvenient time.

It’s just two days after The Weekend Australian confirmed what I have been writing about for a long time: the poker machine “cash cow” that has funded Sydney NRL clubs for years is rapidly drying up. And it appears both codes need a dose of political reality when it comes to the whole poker machines issue.

The NRL, and most of its clubs, continue to campaign for reductions in gaming machine taxes from the NSW Government – in the face of massive turnover reductions (believed to be up to 25%) because of higher taxes, and, in particular, the impact of smoking bans in gaming areas.

The problems are already being felt — licensed leagues club grants to their football clubs are being slashed. One of the stellar leagues clubs in the NRL, the St George Dragons at Kogarah, has cut its annual grant from $4 million to $2 million.

Of the 16 NRL clubs, at least a dozen are operating at a loss, a sharp contrast to the position in the AFL where only one club made a loss last year. The fact that NRL clubs dependent on licensed clubs are struggling financially seems not to have registered with their AFL counterparts.

The Age story lists at least four AFL clubs that are planning to significantly expand poker machine numbers – Hawthorn, Western Bulldogs, Geelong and St Kilda. Before they do so they should have a chat to any number of Sydney NRL clubs and get some advice on the “politics” of poker machines in the process!

On 1 July, the most successful independent in recent political history (and one of the most successful of all time), Nick Xenophon, will take up his Senate seat. Along with the Greens and Family First’s Steve Fielding, he will share the balance of power.

Until recently, Xenophon was a one-issue politician, picking up over 20% of the statewide vote in the SA Upper House. And that issue is his opposition to, some may say obsession about, poker machines.

When he gets to Canberra he will find he is tilling on fertile soil. Tim Costello has been lobbying Kevin07 over the issue, and he has been getting an encouraging response. The Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce has climbed on the bandwagon.

Federal intervention to reduce poker machine numbers, and the social impact of gambling on poker machines, is inevitable, and sooner rather than later.

Rugby league clubs lobbying the NSW Government, and the Queensland Government, to reduce poker machine taxes have a herculean task before them. AFL clubs planning to use poker machine growth to lift their income are taking a huge risk. A risk made even greater by today’s revelations.

Peter Fray

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