AFL clubs with poker machines are raking in more cash than other clubs, and their devotion to this controversial revenue channel appears to be growing.
Ahead of the start of the season on Thursday night, financial research firm IBISWorld revealed the AFL revenue rankings for 2017, and the link with poker machine revenue was stark.
The AFL’s top two earning clubs in 2017 – Collingwood and Hawthorn – were also the two clubs that earned the most through ‘gaming and hospitality’.
Conversely, none of the bottom three – Greater Western Sydney, Gold Coast and North Melbourne – own any poker machines.
North Melbourne, which had the lowest revenue of all 18 AFL clubs at just under $40 million, is one of the few Victorian clubs to have removed all poker machines from its venues.
The New Daily went through the annual reports of all 18 clubs. Ten of them disclosed revenue from ‘gaming and hospitality’ or ‘social clubs’.
With the exception of the Brisbane Lions, every club on the list is Victoria-based. One club is missing from this list: Port Adelaide. It does have poker machines, but does not separate out its hospitality and gaming revenue.
Sydney, the WA teams and Adelaide do not have poker machines.
All but three clubs on the list below saw revenue increase through these channels.
It’s important to note these figures do not relate exclusively to gambling revenue. None of the clubs stated precisely how much revenue came exclusively from poker machines, with most lumping it in with food, beverages and other revenue from club-style venues.
However, one club, Essendon, separated its ‘venues’ revenue into two groups: ‘food and drink’ and ‘other’. Food and drink brought in $4.9 million, while ‘other’ brought in $8.4 million.
This suggests gaming revenue could make up as much as two-thirds of total ‘gaming and hospitality’ revenue.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform estimates that AFL clubs take in $93 million a year through their poker machines, with the average punter losing $21,000 a year.
While a number of clubs have signalled their intention to move away from poker machines, the figures show in most cases revenue through gaming venues had increased.
Stephen Mayne, spokesperson for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said more needed to be done.
“It has been more talk than action,” Mr Mayne told The New Daily.
“Geelong closed down the poker machines at Simonds Stadium, which was good, but the other clubs have all kept what they’ve got, and they’re still bleeding $93 million a year in their 17 venues.”
The AFL needed to “come up with compensation” for clubs to ditch their poker machines, Mr Mayne said.
“The AFL has a central role to play. The more poker machine revenue you have, the less AFL funding you should get.”
Queensland teams receive most AFL funding
The club receiving the most funding from the AFL was the Gold Coast Suns, which took in $24.7 million, accounting for more than 60 per cent of its total revenue.
Nick Tarrant, senior industry analyst at IBISWorld, said the Suns relied on this funding to “stay afloat”.
The Suns were followed by the Brisbane Lions ($20.9 million), St Kilda ($20.6 million), the GWS Giants ($17.6 million), and North Melbourne ($16.3 million).
Collingwood, Hawthorn, West Coast, Essendon and Richmond received the least AFL funding.
Of all the established football clubs, North Melbourne – which scrapped poker machines a decade ago – was faring the worst, Mr Tarrant said.
“The team struggled significantly on and off the field, with attendances down by 19 per cent, the largest fall in the league,” he said, adding membership sales and gate receipts were down by over 12 per cent as a result.
Commenting on the financial role of poker machines, Mr Tarrant said: “The AFL is pushing hard for the clubs to reduce their dependence on hospitality and gaming revenue, but it remains clear that certain clubs rely heavily on their corporate hosting and pokies revenue streams.
“The three top clubs received the least funding from the AFL. In 2017, 29.4 per cent of Collingwood’s revenue came from hospitality and pokies, with Hawthorn at 26.7 per cent.”