The Victorian branch of the Returned and Services League (RSL) is facing claims of a conflict of interest as the debate over pokies games in clubs rages on.
The Age revealed this week that the organisation and several of its sub-branches own shares in Tabcorp – the state’s largest supplier of gaming machines.
The shares were purchased when Tattersalls, which merged with Tabcorp two years ago, floated them on the Australian stock exchange in 2005.
Responding to media inquiries, the RSL said it was planning to offload those assets and would recommend that any clubs with a stake in the gambling giant do the same.
While the exact number of sub-branches with Tabcorp ties is unknown, RSL president Dr Robert Webster estimates that as many as 30 clubs took up the maximum offer of 5,000 priority shares.
All told, that equates to a $500,000 stake at the time of purchase.
It is also understood that Dr Webster personally held shares in Tabcorp as recently as March this year.
The news comes on the back of a campaign from younger members who wish to see gaming machines booted out of Victorian RSL clubs.
Lucas Moon, who served in East Timor, believes the situation has severely compromised the integrity of officials who have laid down the league’s gaming policy since 2005.
“We should not have been a shareholder when we were making such important decisions,” he said.
“The RSL is 100-year-old charity with a brand name built on trust and integrity.
“In its relationship with the gambling industry the RSL leadership has failed the … test.”
Moon said the Tabcorp shares represented a “conflict of interest”, but the RSL has denied those accusations.
“The number and value of the shares held by the RSL Victoria network are immaterial to the total asset base and the income derived from the dividends,” an RSL spokesperson said.
“The shares are also immaterial to the total income of the Victorian RSL Branch.
“The same is true at the sub-branch level.”
The RSL has 2,800 licensed gaming machines across Victoria, making it the state’s second-largest pokies operator after the Woolworths-owned ALH Group.
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