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Adelaide United to buy Sturt's pokie pub

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A-League soccer club Adelaide United is poised to acquire 40 poker machine licenses as it finalises the purchase of an Edwardstown pub from Sturt Football Club – a move immediately condemned by social welfare groups.

Following the model set by AFL and SANFL clubs, the Reds’ hierarchy is keen to secure pokie revenues to underpin the club’s struggling finances.

The club confirmed yesterday it was finalising an agreement to purchase the Castle Tavern in Edwardstown for an undisclosed sum from financially-struggling SANFL club Sturt. The Tavern currently has 33 poker machines, with approval to install up to 40.

Adelaide United CEO Glenn Elliott told InDaily the venue, which is far from the club’s Hindmarsh playing home, was being purchased as a commercial asset rather than as a facility for members and supporters.

“That brief has always been part of the club’s business plan,” Elliott said. “Professional clubs in the Australian sporting landscape, particularly in Adelaide, face challenges financially, so it had always been part of our plan to develop some non-core income and to that end we’ve proceeded to pursue it.

“It’s really a matter of looking at what commercial opportunities are out in the marketplace. It is challenging in that industry at the moment, but having had a past background in that over many years in previous employment it’s not an industry that’s foreign to us.

“The Castle Plaza’s a long-standing entity in the Edwardstown area. Our motivation there will be to make it appealing to all the patrons who live close by. There is significant opposition down there so we will have to be very good at the various hospitality skills that are required.”

Sturt FC has been trying to clear $2.2 million in debt through fundraising and asset sales – including the Castle Tavern.

Sturt’s precarious financial position, and the fact Adelaide United could add up to seven additional poker machines to the venue, may mean United’s hierarchy has extracted a very good deal for itself.

The venue will be owned by the non-profit Adelaide United Members Club, licencing application documents show.

Elliott said any revenue generated from the purchase would be reinvested in the club.

“Certainly in terms of football development, Adelaide United is very disadvantaged on the national scene compared to other A-League clubs in the amount of money that it can commit to junior development.

“Certainly putting strong youth development programs is critical and to do that you need funding. So any funds that we can generate out of this will go specifically to football development.

“There’s a quantum leap, a massive gap between clubs like Melbourne Victory, Brisbane, Sydney … compared to clubs like ours.”

Welfare groups were quick to condemn the club’s purchase yesterday, with South Australian Council of Social Service executive director Ross Womersley calling it “deeply regrettable”.

“It seems almost like an inevitability but it’s still deeply regrettable that sporting clubs like Adelaide United which represent outstanding athleticism and health, that serve particularly as such strong role models for young men, identify that the path to financial independence is through the purchase of liquor and gaming licences,” Womersley said.

“Yes, they will argue other sporting clubs have pokies and sell liquor to fund their activities. However, this does not address the fact that these activities would seem mutually antagonistic, especially when one considers the damaging consequences that flow for individuals, their families and community more broadly when alcohol and gambling becomes an addiction.

“It’s almost certain that the club itself as many have already will become addicted to this type of revenue source and probably seek to expand its activities in the liquor [and] gambling arena.”

Elliott said poker machines being used to fund sport was nothing new.

“Across Australia it enables a lot of sporting clubs to actually play sport. In terms of the SANFL here in South Australia obviously it’s very strong. Our motivation is to be able to play sport, and if we’re able to return funds to allow us to run better development programs so be it.”

South Australian Independent Senator Nick Xenophon called on the club’s members to complain to the club about the purchase.

“My plea would be for the members of the Adelaide Football Club to raise this as an issue with the club. As far as business models go, poker machines are driven by… getting money off the backs of the vulnerable and the addicted. Why would a community, family-oriented club like Adelaide United want to be getting their revenue from an industry that causes so much misery?”

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