RETURNED Services' Associations (RSA) is increasingly the preferred entertainment venue for the older demographic in Napier and Hastings.
Napier and Hastings RSAs are multi-million-dollar operations with combined membership soon to be well over 7000.
Hastings RSA CEO Neil Murphy still sports a moustache from his time as captain of the Hawke's Bay rugby team in the mid-1980s, but his business operation is future focused.
He said including pokie machine turnover, Hastings RSA saw $12 million a year. Without the machines, turnover was $3 million.
Club membership will soon jump by 800 to about 4300 as his club amalgamates with the nearby Heretaunga Club.
Engineering reports on the Heretaunga Club's building, substantially bigger than the RSA's, may stymie the amalgamation deal.
If the deal goes through, Hastings RSA will shift to the Heretaunga Club's premises after a multi-million-dollar renovation, made easier thanks to a $3.3 million offer on the RSA's current premises on Avenue Rd West, where Countdown supermarket wishes to expand.
Heretaunga Club manager Chelsea Boyce said the club voted for the amalgamation due to falling revenue.
"You find that with most of the clubs. They have a good membership but it is how many that are active that matters," she said.
Hastings RSA boosted its membership last year by amalgamating with the Hibernian Club. The Hibernian had 600 members but only 100 were active and it was in slow decline.
An application to transfer the Hibernian's pokie machine licence was successful and the RSA now has the maximum allowable number of machines, 30, one of only five clubs in the country with the maximum amount.
Mr Murphy said the new site would be bigger, better "and hopefully attract more people".
"We need to be financially strong in the environment today," he said.
"We would probably rank in the top three RSAs in New Zealand.
If we have financial strength and we can provide more support to the community through our welfare help."
Mr Murphy said the pokie machines could be considered "a double-edged sword".
"People say you shouldn't have them, but there are so many people that get benefit from them like the rugby clubs and different schools that get grants, so they do good in the community."
There were 80 people having lunch on the Tuesday when Hawke's Bay Today visited. Also on Tuesday, a three-course dinner is $12. On Thursday, a roast dinner is $8.
Annual membership is $35 but it is no budget venue - the toilets feature polished granite with infrared switching.
It has an in-house TAB and TV screens adorn the walls. Three Sky TV decoders cost a "ludicrous" $50 a day and touring shows often use the venue.
It has a separate function centre, popular for weddings and 80th birthdays, he said.
"There is everything you can get here, to be honest."
A minute's silence is observed every night to remember the dead.
Mr Murphy said the club would remain community-oriented and true to its ethos of members helping members. In the past financial year, it spent more than $40,000 on membership welfare services such as lawn mowing and meals on wheels.
Napier RSA is also financially strong, thanks in part to the Cosmopolitan Club's merger with the Taradale Club in 2012, with the combined entity moving to Taradale.
Napier RSA chief executive Craig Williams said the merger was good for business because "you're taking out a major competitor".
"Our membership base is growing and we are certainly happy with last year's performance and we are signing up new members every month," he said.
The club has about 3300 members.
He said the clubs 18 pokie machines contributed significantly to the profit of the club "but I'd like to add we are not all about pokie machines".
"We take our welfare seriously - we have two welfare officers and a welfare committee."
Like Hastings RSA, it has looked to expend its footprint but is keeping its CBD location for now.
"We have just gone through an 18-month feasibility study about expanding to our perimeter and, simply put, it was about a $20 million project and we simply can't afford it," he said.
Parking was a key issue but moving out of the CBD would affect revenue negatively because the club operated the lucrative Norfolk Lounge Restaurant.
"We cater for an enormous amount of visitors to the town and they support the club very generously," he said.
He said a private club had no advantage over public establishments.
"The bar down the road can have the gaming machine shipped to them at absolutely no cost to them and get paid a commission every week or month. I have to go and invest in gaming machines which are about $30,000 apiece plus licensing fees, compliance fees and all the other bits and pieces. I have to go and invest our money to achieve our result so, no, I don't believe there is an advantage.
"I know if you asked the hospitality industry they would say there was definitely an advantage but no, I disagree."
Napier RSA has three main sets of accounts: the RSA (an incorporated society), the restaurant and the pokie machines.
"Everything is audited and we are required to send our accounts down to the Department of Internal Affairs at licence-renewal time and they go through and make sure we are managing our business in a proper way.
"If we are doing that then they say okay you can have your licence again for another year and if they say no they can take that licence away."
He said the club was under no obligation to make grants outside its own community of members but, like Hastings, it did.
Many community contributions were intangible.
"Our facility is used by the community - service clubs and the like host their meetings at our club rooms and they are not charged rent or anything like that and we provide the power and all the bits and pieces.
"I don't know how you add that up but I do know that we have community events every night of the week, sometimes twice in the day."
The Thirsty Whale co-owner, Keith Price, said private clubs didn't affect his Ahuriri eating and drinking establishment in Napier but different pokie machine rules were "a bit of an issue".
One difference between public and private establishments is the seasonality of patronage.
"At this time of year, you have got to just get out there and do things like sponsored dinners to keep the people coming in and cash flow going," he said.
"It's a hard three or four months now in the hospitality business."
Ahuriri was increasingly "the place to be" but customer behaviour was changing.
"I think since the last change in the liquor laws there aren't as many people out drinking as there used to be.
"The preloading is very bad. People buy cheaper alcohol, drink at home and then come out.
"If you go back five years, people used to come down at 10.30pm. If you go back three years it was 11.30pm and now it's 12.30am."
Napier and Hastings RSAs have no such problems. Due to their success, they are more concerned with their respective potential property developments.
"Hospitality is a tough industry, but we find the harder we work the luckier we get," Mr Williams said.