The proposed new laws that would place bet limits on poker machines are causing quite a stir – especially around the golf course.

The Proposal – which would require pre-commitment technology to be placed on poker machines in all clubs and hotels across Australia – is intended to reduce problem gambling. Greg Mills, CEO of GolfNSW, issued a statement on behalf of the 390 affiliated golf clubs in NSW condemning the move, stating that the setup costs for the new technology (noted as in excess of $77million), plus the reduction in annual revenue of around $46 million could be a death blow to many clubs that have come to depend on the pokies to keep their clubs afloat.

An outcome of this magnitude will simply drive many of our clubs out of business,” the letter explains.

This impost will have far wider repercussions than simply leaving golfers without courses. The $2.2 billion Australian golf industry of which NSW comprises approximately 43% will be stressed to say the least and may never fully recover leaving potentially thousands of workers in the rough,” he adds.

Experts say that mandatory pre-commitment technology won’t stop problem gambling. It will merely drive them to other gambling options. Clubs are the backbone of many communities, particularly in the country and if gamblers are forced to look elsewhere, clubs will surely close and golf as a sport will no longer be available to the masses,” he said.

The issue is certainly a hot topic of debate. Excessive gambling is a very serious problem – one that affects not only individuals, but families and even entire communities (I’ve seen the devastation firsthand.) The people who generally tend to spend excessive money on poker machines are usually the ones who can least afford to lose it. And the government (and taxpayers) are usually left toclean up the mess.

So the government is probably justified in doing something to combat the gambling problems. But is it absolutely necessary to impose heavy-handed, sweeping (and expensive) changes in order to try and affect the behaviour of a subset of gamblers? What will be next? Telling golf addicts on the first tee that they must restrict the number of holes they are going to play?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to make light of the situation. This is a very serious issue that will have massive repercussions throughout our country. But I don’t think that the government is going about it the right way.

Regardless, the deeper issue – I believe –centres around the dependence of golf clubs on poker machine revenue. While I understand that gaming revenue can make or break a club these days, the hard reality, in my opinion, is that pokies have no place in a golf club. Perhaps I’m a bit old fashioned, or maybe I am just a fervent golf purist, but a golf club shouldn’t be dependent on pokie revenue in order to succeed. There are heaps of better ways to increase revenue, while also improving your overall offering to your members/players (and providing a benefit to the community). Take The Eastern Golf Club in Melbourne, for example.They have invested time, money and effort into their Food & Beverage operations, and are now serving fantastic food that would put many high-end restaurants to shame. Beyond that, other clubs are finding success by hosting events, weddings, corporate days, junior golf days and the highly lucrative social group market. All of these are morally positive options that benefit both the club and the community. After all, if golf clubs are indeed the “backbone of our communities”, then shouldn’t we make them more community-friendly?
See you on the first tee!

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