Four AFL clubs, Carlton, Richmond, Essendon, and St Kilda, have been accused of profiting from the misery of gamblers as it was revealed that over $40 million was lost on club-owned poker machines in the past financial year. According to data from the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission, Carlton took the most money from gamblers’ losses among the four clubs. Meanwhile, Essendon’s poker machines had the highest individual losses per machine. These four clubs are the only remaining Victorian clubs involved in the pokies business.
Last year, a total of $40.2 million was lost on the 690 pokie machines operated by eight club-owned gaming venues. This is the highest amount lost in a decade. Monash University gambling expert Charles Livingstone criticized this practice, calling it exploitative of vulnerable people and damaging to the clubs’ reputation. Carlton profited the most from gamblers’ losses, with players sinking over $19 million into the club’s machines. Essendon, on the other hand, experienced losses of $14.7 million across their venues in Melton, with an average loss of $77,500 per machine.
Livingstone explained that the COVID-19 restrictions temporarily halted the operation of poker machines, but once they were lifted, gambling losses surpassed the previous year by over $10 million. He also highlighted that poker machines are attractive to people facing economic hardships as they provide an escape from reality. Five AFL clubs, including Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn, Melbourne, and the Western Bulldogs, have already divested from poker machines due to the social harm they cause.
No Pokies at Essendon (NoPE) president, Mike Read, criticized Essendon for prioritizing revenue over the damage caused by gaming machines. He stated that many AFL clubs have recognized the harm caused by poker machines and stated that the club is failing the test of leaving the community in a better condition. St Kilda and Richmond did not respond to questions regarding their involvement in poker machines. Overall, Victorian gamblers lost over $3 billion in poker machines, but this may be partly attributed to inflation.