News + Media

Big steps forward: Coles and the RSL exit the gambling industry

March 13th, 2019

Advocates for reform of Australia’s gambling industry have seen some big steps forward in recent weeks as Coles joined the majority of AFL clubs and exited the poker machine industry, while RSL sub-branches made moves to follow suit.

Australians lose more to gambling per person than any other country in the world, causing financial stress, mental health problems and family breakdown. Recent research has found that gambling causes twice as much harm to the health of Victorians as diabetes, bipolar disorder and cannabis dependence combined.

Some of Australia’s household brand names and most respected organisations are deeply implicated as owners of poker machines. Only a few years ago all but one Victorian AFL clubs owned pokie venues, Coles owned around 3,000 machines in 87 pubs, around 50 Victorian RSL clubs operated machines and Woolworths is a joint venture partner that owns more than 12,000 machines across the nation.

The tide is turning though, with the move by Coles to get out of gambling placing heavy pressure on Woolworths to move from being a laggard in the industry to a leader of change and reform. It is now the only major supermarket retailer in the world with such a significant stake in the gambling industry.

In Victoria, 200 of the states 250 RSL sub-branches are pokie free, but the remaining 50 together constitute the third largest pokie chain in the state. After months of internal networking and planning, a group of pokie-free RSL sub-branches announced they’d be seeking to change the Victorian RSL to exit the pokies industry. They argue that pokies hurt the same veterans the institution was established to help.

Taking lessons from Australia’s leadership in tobacco reform, the Alliance for Gambling Reform (which includes local governments, health professionals, churches, social service agencies and victims of the industry) has been calling for reputable brands to get out of gambling just as they got out of tobacco. “Getting Benson and Hedges and Dunhills out of cricket was crucial for removing tobacco’s social license, paving the way for Australian governments and Australian states to incrementally bring in world leading tobacco laws. We can lead on gambling reform as we have in tobacco reform” says Tony Mohr, Executive Director of the Alliance for Gambling Reform  

The momentum continues to grow. The philanthropic sector has been crucial in supporting Ka Ching!, the major doco that revealed the deception by design at the heart of pokie machines, and backing the Alliance and its strategy to achieve change. To learn more or to get more involved, please contact Tony Mohr, Executive Director, Alliance for Gambling Reform, tony@agr.org.au - 0402 336 416.

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