TAB money tempting, seductive for clubs

By Ewan McDonald

Sir Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof (named after his grandfather. The fashion for silly names began a generation later when Demi, Jamie and er, Bob Geldof became parents) once told Maggie Thatcher: "I'll shake hands with the devil on my left and the devil on my right to get to the people we are meant to help."

You get the feeling that's pretty much how the presidents, secretaries, treasurers and fixtures officers of our local sports clubs must operate these days. Lord love 'em, they're mostly volunteers trying to make sure kids and teens and Saturday afternoon heroes have a park or a court to play on, kit to wear, and somewhere to socialise after the game.

How do they do it? They sell alcohol. They sell gambling.

Talk about shaking hands with a couple of devils.

As we reported earlier this week the Auckland Council has opened a public debate on capping the numbers of TABs and pub and club pokie venues. Take a look at the figures and you have to say: more power to their, um, elbows.

The Herald reported on its front page this week that New Zealanders lost a record $2.07 billion at the TAB, on poker machines, casino games and Lotto last year.

Bets totalled more than $16 billion - or more than $3600 for every man, woman and child. As our earlier report notes, the council has no control over the casinos: that's central government business.

Further back in the paper the Herald sports team published its annual list of the 25 major players in Kiwi sport. Number 16 was Peter Dale, chairman of the New Zealand Community Trust. In other words, the pit boss for one of the country's largest casinos, except that it's more respectable than SkyCity because it funds local sport and community groups. Again, let's look at the figures:

The trust distributes $38.5 million in gaming money each year, around 80 per cent to amateur sport. That's about the same amount as Sport NZ gives to our Olympic and elite competitors.

The Herald notes, "It's kind of warped: those kids running around on Saturday morning with their bright yellow Kiwi Cricket bats, wallowing in the fountain of youth, are doing so because of those who plug coins into one-armed bandits in pubs and clubs. Seriously, it can mess with your mind if you stop and think about that dichotomy - about the dreams that are formed in youth sport being funded in the shady corners where dreams go to die." Couldn't have put it better myself, which is why I've borrowed the quote.

The trust funds, each year, the equivalent of uniforms for 41,778 rugby teams; 2,570,225 footballs; 4819 four-person waka; more than 2 million hours (or 200 years) of coaching; enough artificial turf to run the length of State Highway 1.

It's easy to understand why suburban soccer and cricket and league and footie clubs say yes to pokies in the clubrooms. I've been one of those presidents and secretaries and treasurers, at a local, provincial, national and international level.

Every year you go to the AGM with the financial report and the budget for next season, divvy up the numbers and tell the members that the subs will have to go up by $25. In the ensuing clamour you vow to give the whole thing away, and that's when you realise there's a really good reason why they have the election of officers before the presentation of the accounts, because you've already been saddled with the job for another 12 months.

Although the breweries would fall all over each other (there were only two) to give clubs like mine the best deal on draught systems, fridges, handles, kegs and beer, we didn't have pokies then.

We had to do the rounds of the local panelbeater or electrician or Joe who played for the club in the 50s and had done quite well for himself in the housepainting game and inhaled enough stripper fumes to awaken fond memories of his varnished youth and might flick us $50 for a new football for the under-15s.

Small wonder that modern clubs prefer a club to install a couple of machines in the corner and watch the handle being pulled, the cherries clocking up, the coins dropping into the slot, instead.

Easy money. Tempting. Downright seductive. For the clubs, I mean. It's just wrong and the Herald sports reporters and the thrust of the council's gambling policy is right. Pokie machines are no way for a sensible, mature, responsible society to fund youth sport, or the Plunket Society, or theatre groups or whatever else our civic and governmental leaders have walked away from.

(You may wish to extrapolate that theme to, sucking up to a sweetheart deal with a casino is no way to pay for an international convention centre, either.) Sports clubs will counter the arguments about taking money from pokies and "community trusts" with the proposition that they need the dollars to compete in whatever game they're playing these days, that parents couldn't afford to let their kids play sport.

Ah, no. If we have the balls to say no to pokies in pubs and clubs, to introduce the sinking lid policy that the council wants to see, it becomes the same deal for everyone, every club. It's called a level playing-field.    

Ewan McDonald is the founding editor of The Aucklander

- The Aucklander

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