Russell Crowe backs poker machine ban at Aussie club

Cast member Russell Crowe smiles at the premiere of "3:10 to Yuma" at the Mann National theatre in Westwood, California, August 21, 2007. The movie opens in the U.S. on September 7. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Oscar-winning Hollywood actor Russell Crowe is pushing to oust poker machines from an Australian sports club, after research showed half the money spent on gambling came from welfare payments.

Crowe, who earlier this year axed scantily dressed cheerleaders from his South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league club, believed the club should not rely on gambling to make money, co-owner Peter Holmes a Court told local media.

“Russell threw down the gauntlet and said ‘Can we do this?’,” Holmes a Court told local television. “It’s been proven beyond reasonable doubt that poker machines cause damage in the community and Russell said we’ve got to find a new business model.”

Banks of poker machines are a staple in many Australian pubs and clubs, with the earnings underwriting other club activities and contributing billions of dollars in tax revenue to state governments.

However, problem gambling is gaining greater attention, with federal politicians recently attacking state governments for relying too heavily on poker machine takes.

Crowe wants the club, which is located in one of Sydney’s less affluent regions, to dump 160 poker machines that local media estimated contributed about A$7 million ($6 million) in revenue a year.

Research had shown welfare payments made up 33 to 70 percent of the money gambled on poker machines in low income areas with high unemployment, Holmes a Court said.

The proposal has to be approved by the club’s board, but he hoped the club would be able to make up the revenue shortfall through other activities and would also be able to attract new sponsors.