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South Sydney plan to scrap pokies -

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Reporter: Deborah Cornwall

When Hollywood star Russell Crowe and high flying businessman Peter Holmes a Court took control of
the South Sydney rugby league team they promised to take them to the top of the ladder. They kitted
the players out in Armani suits, replaced cheer girls with drummers and are now proposing to get
rid of poker machines in their leagues club.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Statistics suggest very strongly that much of Australia is hooked on poker machines.
Nearly $10 billion is lost to the one-armed bandits each year. Club patrons might benefit with
cheap food, drink and entertainment and governments are now addicted to the gambling tax take. But
the downside - problem gambling and misery on a large scale.

Enter Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court, the owners of the South Sydney rugby league football
team. They've stunned the club and sporting world, and no doubt caused a new government hearts to
flutter, announcing they wants the leagues club associated with their football team to get rid of
its poker machines. In the process, they'd be kissing goodbye to about seven million dollars in
profit. Feelings are mixed. Deborah Cornwall reports.

(archival footage)

REPORTER 1: Can you afford to play a poker machine?

WOMAN 1: Not really.

WOMAN 2: I don't know, I think if you're sensible and say you're going to do so much and put it in.
If you lose, well that's it and don't do any more.

(end archival footage)

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The right to do your dough on poker machines has been at the heart of New South
Wales club land culture since pokies first went legal half a century ago. But if Peter Holmes a
Court and his movie star business partner, Russell Crowe, have their way, they're just about to
turn history on its head.

PETER HOLMES A COURT, SOUTH SYDNEY CO-OWNER: I make it very clear, I'm not judging other people,
I'm not judging other clubs. It doesn't feel right for me, it doesn't feel right for Russell, it
doesn't feel right for our football club. Not [that] we're not doing this on moral grounds, we're
doing this because we think it's better business.

BILL ALEXIOU-HUCKER, SOUTH SYDNEY LEAGUES CLUB: Show us the money. You know, great idea, nice idea,
morally fantastic, show us a blueprint of a business model that we can work with as a board.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: When Peter Holmes a Court and his celebrity mate took over the South Sydney
Football Club last year, they promised to take the team back to the top. Players were fitted out in
Armani suits, cheer girls replaced with drummers and the team made the finals for the first time in
two decades.

RUGBY COMMENTATOR: Will they stop him? No, they won't.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: But their plan to ban pokies from club land is nothing short of revolutionary.

DAVID COSTELLO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CLUBS NSW: Since I was very surprised by it, a club of that scale,
I find it hard to believe that they can operate without gaming machines and support an NRL side.

BILL ALEXIOU-HUCKER: Peter is only one voice of our 3,500 members. The income from poker machines
does employ a lot of people. If clubs decided to go down the track of no pokies and couldn't come
up with a substantiated business model to replace them, we could have a lot of unemployed people in
New South Wales.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The argument that pokie revenue has always ploughed straight back into the
community it came from, has always been the rationale to justify the misery it causes. But for
Peter Holmes a Court, no amount of subsidised club dinners or pensioner specials can make good the
terrible cost to a community like South Sydney.

PETER HOLMES A COURT: And there is an undeniable cost with poker machines, in low income, high
unemployment areas. There's an undeniable cost in that and we're trying to reduce that cost, so
that the net benefit is higher.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: In New South Wales alone, more than $5 billion is sunk into poker machines every
year, with one billion of it going straight to the Government. That's more pokie revenue than the
rest of the country put together, but up to half of that money comes from problem gamblers like
Glyn Hicks, a 30-year-old carpenter who lost everything after 10 years of playing the pokies.

GLYN HICKS: Knowing I was doing the wrong thing, but yeah, chasing - basically chasing this fantasy
of a big win at some stage. It's not just the money and the material possessions, it's the - all
the emotional stuff that I've lost as well, the loss of my self-worth and self-esteem and all the
emotional stuff that comes with it

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The idea of a pokie-free club has plenty of backers, it's even united the two
Costello brothers.

TIM COSTELLO, ANTI-GAMBLING ADVOCATE: For a club to say, "we're serious about listening to you", I
think is such good news. And I think they're pioneers.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: I reckon what Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court are doing is
fantastic.

REPORTER 2: Have you spoken to the Cronulla Sharks about doing the same?

PETER COSTELLO: I think what they've announced is fantastic and all credit to them, I hope the club
goes from strength to strength. We've got enough poker machines in Australia, we don't need any
more.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: As much as 85 per cent of club revenues come from poker machines, rivers of gold
that will not be given up lightly. Yet the two new club owners believe there's an argument that in
the long-term at least, pokies may actually be bad for business.

PETER HOLMES A COURT: We know we're going to be taking an economic hit by doing this, but we think
it'll be better long-term business for the football club and the leagues club. The reality is
there's a bunch of people who don't like going to clubs, that don't like bringing their family into
venues that have poker machines, and we're hoping that by doing this we're attracting a new
audience. Our sponsors telling us, the more we do in the community, the more net benefit we have to
our community, the more they want to sponsor us.

PROF. DAVID LIVINGSTONE, MONASH UNIVERSITY: I think Souths are probably in a better position that
most because they happen to have connections at the big end of town. People like Russell Crowe and
Holmes a Court are probably in a position where they can generate alternative revenue streams from
corporate sponsorship.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: But it's not their celebrity backers they need to convince, it's the board and
the club's 20,000 members.

BILL ALEXIOU-HUCKER: It's not enough to keep us in control if the members don't like the idea of no
poker machines and that's who we've got to look after.

DAVID COSTELLO: It's a brave move, it's an innovative move, there's no doubt about it, but there's
no sign that it's got the legs to work.

PETER HOLMES A COURT: We weren't doing this because we were trying to win a beauty parade, we
weren't doing this for moral reasons. We're doing this because we think it's right for our club.

(excerpt from the documentary South Side Story)

MEN (singing): Glory, glory to South Sydney...

(end excerpt)

KERRY O'BRIEN: Deborah Cornwall reporting.