Melissa Fyfe had a cracking page one story in The Sunday Age yesterday revealing the rorting of so-called community benefit payments by various AFL clubs at their pokies venues.

Coming just eight days after Hawthorn ended a 17-year premiership drought and with keen pokies advocate Jeff Kennett as club president, the first paragraph was strong stuff indeed:

Cashed-up premiership team Hawthorn has paid itself almost $2 million in revenue from its poker machine club — and then claimed it as a community benefit.

The story documented how various AFL clubs are up to similar rorts, but failed to point out that most of them are in joint venture with Woolworths and its colourful billionaire partner Bruce Mathieson.

This omission is not a good look given that Woolworths spends millions every year advertising in The Age and its former CEO Roger Corbett sits on the Fairfax board.

It was Corbett who drove the Woolworths push into pokies and the ALH partnership with Mathieson that now run more than 11,000 pokies across the country. Indeed, Corbett only quit the ALH board a few weeks ago.

The Age’s arch rival Herald Sun has no problem taking on Mathieson, but can’t seem to bring itself to regularly mention that he only owns 25% of the ALH joint venture with Woolworths being the dominant 75% partner.

For instance, when Matt McEvoy was punched and kicked to death at the ALH-owned QBH nightclub in Southgate last month, the Herald Sun produced this hard-hitting splash: “We’re not to blame” says QBH owner Bruce Mathieson.

Woolworths, the biggest corporate advertiser in the Herald Sun, was not mentioned once.

I asked Woolworths a pokies question at last year’s AGM and research by the www.pokiewatch.org website suggest that new CEO Michael Luscombe told a number of porkies in his reply.

Pokiewatch.org is run by Paul Bendat who is a very unusual anti-pokies campaigner because his father Jack Bendat is a BRW Rich Lister and the family has a strong relationship with Woolworths dating back to the 1960s.

However, as Paul’s latest post on his blog suggests, he’s had trouble getting his campaign against the Woolworths pokies empire into the mainstream media.

The same post includes some interesting evidence about Melbourne Storm apparently rorting the community benefit system like Hawthorn to the tune of $162,000 at its Aces Sporting Club.

Melbourne Storm’s disclosure practices appear even worse because Aces Sporting Club fails to reveal the connection with 100% owner News Ltd on the Victorian Government’s pokies website. This form was also lodged by a Woolworths associate.

Maybe Rupert Murdoch doesn’t want to let on to his mother Dame Elisabeth that he’s directly benefitting from a pokies venue in her home town given that she identified gambling as the scourge of society in that lovely interview with Andrew Denton earlier this year?

*Disclosure: the author nominated for the Woolworths board today on a platform that it get out of the pokies business.

Peter Fray

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