Those who think the “younger generation” only wants to party and gamble are wrong. Young Australian military veterans in the Returned and Services League (RSL) are lobbying for changes to the RSL clubs and, specifically, want to see the removal of electronic poker machines. The goal is to provide better support to vets and to remove the temptation the machines offer.
In Victoria, there are around 280 clubs of the RSL. Of these, 52 offer poker machines, but former Army officer David Petersen is pushing for their removal. He is also leading a campaign that would provide greater welfare payments to vets and stricter control of gambling machines in vet-related facilities.
The 32-year-old Army vet is the president of the Camberwell club—no machines allowed. He doesn’t believe the RSL needs to be involved in the gambling industry in any form, including by offering the machines and argues that they have never generated enough revenue for the organization to warrant their use.
The 52 RSL clubs received revenue of around US$182.9 million in 2017. Of this, only $1.8 million was profit. Only 4% of the revenue was directed to vet welfare and community programs.
Petersen has some resistance to his campaign. Brigadier Michael Annett, the state secretary of the Victorian RSL, believes that around $6.8 million “to a greater or lesser degree” is used to support vets, but adds that another $4.78 million is redirected to vet programs, as well.
Poker, and other gambling, machines, have come under fire in Australia lately, with a greater public push to have them either banned completely or limited. Opponents argue that they’re too easy a target for gamblers and offer stakes that result in significant losses of personal income. The UK has also recognized the issue, recently instituting a mandatory cap on similar machines—fixed odds betting terminals—of $2.59 compared to the previous $129.
Addiction and gambling problem questions aside, the poker machines have not proven to be beneficial to the RSL. Several of the clubs in Victoria have shut down over the past decade because of financial difficulties. If the machines had been lucrative enough, they would have been able to help keep the clubs afloat. If they can’t even do that, there’s no way they can generate enough revenue to help the vets.