Playing the game: AFL, NRL and the campaign against the Wilkie pokie reforms

AFL and NRL clubs say they face financial losses if punters like this are forced into a pre-commitment scheme. AAP

The Federal Government’s plan to introduce pre-commitment systems on pokie machines in order to reduce problem gambling has become a major political headache.

A campaign by Clubs Australia targeting Labor MPs in NSW has seen growing backbench concern in the Gillard government.

Now the National Rugby League (NRL) and the Australian Football League (AFL) are set to become involved in the debate.

Former Victorian Premier and Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett claims the Wilkie reforms will cause AFL clubs to go under while Collingwood president eddie McGuire has labelled the plan a “footy tax”.

In NSW, commentators on NRL matches have openly campaigned against the tax on air.

The Conversation spoke to pokie industry expert James Doughney to find where, in this febrile atmosphere of spin and competing claims, the truth lies.

Will the pokie pre-commitment laws proposed by Andrew Wilkie MP cause clubs to go under as claimed by Jeff Kennett?

Absolute nonsense. Anyone who believes what Jeff Kennett says regarding clubs going under has got rocks in their heads.

This is a huge industry we are talking about [football]. In the streets this week all you see is football paraphernalia, on television all you see are football reports, it is a multi million billion dollar industry.

If they can’t survive without exploiting vulnerable people then they need to look massively to other sources of revenue.

The football public love their game, they love their clubs, they will support their clubs through thick and thin. They don’t need gambling.

Do clubs directly use money from pokie revenue for onfield spending or does go into a wider revenue pool?

It just goes straight into the wider revenues. They might claim to use parts of it on community programs and the rest of it but that just makes it look better. That’s just revenue shifting, expense shifting.

It goes into the broad pool of revenue they have.

Campaigners opposed to the Wilkie reforms. AAP

What are the differences between NRL clubs and AFL clubs in terms of pokie revenue and the importance of that revenue?

Over the years the NRL and the clubs were synonymous. Each of the rugby league teams had their own major club and the club became a huge funder of rugby league teams. It is just the way that things developed in New South Wales.

They are just going to have to change the way they operate. If rugby league clubs were depending on cigarette revenues, or on other revenue sources that are regarded as unethical they’d have to change the way they operate. I don’t see what the problem is.

How wide is the gap between sports and pokie betting? Can clubs/leagues have “good” betting?

We all have a go on the horses and other forms of [sports] betting. But I would suggest to you that the way sports betting is being promoted – especially among young people – at the moment, that we’re are starting to create a rod for our own backs in the same way pokie machines started off from a low base and then became ravenous.

I would be keeping a very closely eye on sports betting and the way it is promoted.

Is there a danger [for sports] that now the pokie and sports betting genie is out of the bottle, we won’t be able to put in back in, in the same way governments are finding it difficult to wean themselves off gambling revenue?

Let me say, the Wilkie reforms are part of the process of getting that genie back in the bottle and what Wilkie has done is show the falsity of the argument that once the genie is out, nothing can be done about it.

Something is being done.