As Aussies are facing problem gambling, many clubs and pubs are removing their pokies machines. Queensland’s Bardon Bowls Club was done away with ‘pokies’ recently as well as the suburban club followed the trend and moved away from gambling machines. Australians now don’t want to spend their money on pokies but wish to enjoy on other entertainment like drinks in bar or on music and food.
Club owners can repurpose the pokie area with a function space, and earn $1,000 a night with a couple of thousand dollars in bar sales as the pokies didn’t generate a steady income stream. Instead of pokies, the club like Bardon Bowls or Suburban are now investing in food trucks, improved wine lists and craft beer. It now stocks an array of locally-sourced beers from breweries such as Newstead, Green Beacon, and Eumundi.
Pokies replacing craft beers
Similarly, Penny Ryan at the Petersham Bowls Club in NSW, which was founded in 1896, has found that craft beer was a way to attract a totally new audience. The club has six taps of locally-sourced independent craft beer, and another six from the rest of Australia.
Live music and craft beer is the way forward for bowls clubs, and people come in to see what’s on tap and to try something new. The club has not had pokies on site in 10 years, and the team made a conscious decision to move away from them.
The club did go under in 2007 but the community got together and came up with a proposal to run it themselves. Since then they’ve completely changed the model of how they make money.
Earlier clubs were reliant on pokies as revenue
The older-style bowling clubs were heavily reliant on pokies. It takes a new model and a different way of thinking to survive. You can survive without pokies and it feels good at the end of the day, keeping people happy whilst not taking this easy money is what now club owners believe
At the Flemington & Kensington Bowls Club in Victoria, pokies have been off the agenda since the late 1990s. Oliver Warren, club secretary, said they only had a few poker machines to begin with and were facing stiff competition from venues with more, so it was imperative that they make a change. Whether you’ve got pokies or not attracts a type of person in the club. Where the clubs are becoming gentrified, and people don’t associate with pokies, it’s just not part of their lifestyle. If clubs had pokies it would be a very different club.
Oliver added that the move to craft beer after getting rid of the pokies was met with a little controversy, having previously served Carlton Light and Draught at the bar. It was highly controversial at the time to have a Coopers pale ale in the fridge, but the margins are pretty good on craft beers. Big brewers have craft lines like Little Creatures, but it was definitely the right decision for the club and they would not look at mainstream faux craft beers.
Local community want less of pokies entertainment
Clubs in Australia brought the community on the journey with them and they’ve opened their doors to the local community to make it a place people can come, have a craft beer and enjoy a friendly atmosphere.
According to Bowls Australia’s national development and government relations manager, Chris Wallace, diversification into new areas such as live music, craft beer and food is the way forward. Bowling Clubs around the country have been learning to diversify their offerings and income streams for a number of years now.
Bowling Clubs are also increasingly becoming community hubs and venues for many more activities than just bowls.
The Australian clubs and the pokies
A government report on Australian Gambling Statistics found that in 2016/17 there were 113,506 gaming machines in clubs of all types. That equates to 58 per cent of all machines in the country.
There has been a long history of pokies at bowls clubs specifically, and many clubs have relied on pokies as an essential revenue stream. Some have even turned into mini-casinos, such as New South Wales’ St Johns Park Bowling Club, which hit the headlines in 2017 for raking in $37 million across its 398 poker machines in one year.
The Gambling Statistics report calculated that total revenue from real-life gaming machine operations reached $144.2 billion in 2016-17.
Despite the big money in pokies, there has been a downwards trend and a plateau in numbers across the country, with caps on pokie numbers and the indoor smoking ban in 2005 which hit pokie revenues hard. Indeed a Victorian study suggested that the implementation of the smoking ban correlated with a 14 per cent decline in gambling machine spend.
Bowls clubs across Australia are adapting to change and remove pokies from their stations and bringing in different for a family and friendly environment to enjoy craft beers, live music and other forms of pokies entertainment.