nder the 10-year deal, announced on Tuesday morning, Packer’s CrownBet will partner with ClubsNSW.
It will encourage club members to use Packer’s online betting service, CrownBet, through a loyalty scheme. Under the scheme, club members betting with CrownBet will accumulate points that can then be exchanged for food and drink at the venues.
Clubs will also have incentives to push their members on to CrownBet. Venues will earn commissions on bets made by their members on the digital service. Members will be able to use a CrownBet app to place bets in venues.
The deal directly challenges the dominance of Tabcorp, which has a physical presence in many clubs, and reflects Packer’s stated intent to refocus Crown’s efforts on its Australian operations and online betting.
But the deal has anti-gambling campaigners concerned
Charles Livingstone, an academic and spokesman for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, described the deal as “cynical opportunism”, which would market an online wagering service to groups already vulnerable to problem gambling.
Livingstone said 62% of money going into poker machines came from problem gambling. Marketing another betting service to those individuals was “just another way of making sure that every cent they earn will go into gambling”, he said.
“There’s no good news here for people who may have a gambling problem,” Livingstone said. “You could describe it as marketing cocaine to people who already have a heroin problem.”
The ClubsNSW chief executive, Anthony Ball, said the vast majority of clubs had been losing money on TAB facilities in recent years “as more and more people switch to online wagering”.
Ball described the deal, which is effective immediately, as a “watershed” moment for the industry, bringing it into the 21st century and ensuring clubs maintained their relevance
“Our arrangement with CrownBet will ensure all NSW clubs get their fair share from digital bets and will help ensure the industry’s long-term viability,” Ball said. “Small and regional clubs will be the biggest winners.”
Senator Nick Xenophon also expressed concern about the deal, which he said presented problem gamblers with even more opportunity to lose their money.
“This is good news for the clubs, bad news for punters,” Xenophon said. “They’ll have even more opportunity to lose their shirts. It’s not enough to lose your shirts at Crown casinos, but you’ll now be able to lose them at clubs and pubs,” he said.
Packer last month resumed his role as a director of Crown Resorts, while former deputy chairman John Alexander took the helm as chairman.
Alexander said at the time that Crown would refocus its efforts on online betting and Australian operations. That includes the planned six-star resort and high rollers casino at Barangaroo.
The company has scaled back its international operations, halving its stake in the Macau-based Melco Crown, and deciding not to proceed with a $2bn casino project in Las Vegas.
That came after 18 Crown staff were arrested in China after a police operation in October.