Geelong chairman Colin Carter. Picture: Peter Ristevski
Geelong chairman Colin Carter. Picture: Peter Ristevski

Pokies gone: Cats to exit gaming industry

GEELONG is going cold turkey, ending its gambling habit by selling its Point Cook pokies business.

The Cats announced on Tuesday that would sell The Brook Point Cook to the Melbourne Racing Club.

The sale, expected to net a seven-figure sum, will be finalised early in the new year, coinciding with the Cats becoming debt-free for the first time in 50 years.

The club expects the 50 staff it employs at The Brook will be offered jobs by the MRC.

At the height of its reliance on gambling revenue, the Cats pulled $4 million a year from the pockets of punters. But chairman Colin Carter and CEO Brian Cook led the push to go gambling-free.

The removal and sale of pokies machines from Kardinia Park and bans on punting advertisements at the venue reduced the intake to about $1 million a year.

But Mr Carter told the Geelong Advertiser the sale of The Brook was afoot, saying his club would gladly forego that income as a matter of principle.

"We understand that gambling is a legal activity. We understand that for a lot of people it's harmless but we also know that its not harmless for everybody," Mr Carter said.

"We want to be a positive force in the community, so making money out of something that is harmful to some people is not a business we wanted to be in.

"Like a lot of clubs, it (gambling) was a big part of our economics, and I think, in a sense, it was odd (for us) to be talking about community values and (being) a family friendly place (but) to have such a large reliance on that industry. That didn't sit well with us."

The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation praised the Cats for having the courage of their convictions, noting North Melbourne was also out of gaming, while Melbourne, Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs planned to free themselves from it.

"A generation of kids has grown up thinking that betting on sport is normal, but community

sentiment is evolving," the foundation's CEO Shane Lucas said.

The Brook caused some headaches for the Cats in recent years, the club eventually losing a long-running legal battle over rental fees with the landlord.

Mr Carter said money pocketed from the sale would be invested in "future non-traditional opportunities and not be used to fund the day-to-day operations of the club".

He said the growth of the club's award-winning hospitality business Higher Mark, and the generosity of donors who backed a recent philanthropic campaign, had allowed the club to improve its balance sheet while weaning itself off the gambling dollar.

"We expect to be debt-free in a few months, which is possibly the first time in 50 years for the club, so we're in pretty good nick," he said.

"We're looking at other investments in industries we feel are aligned with our purpose, where we're hoping to make a few dollars to help bridge the gap."