[theage.com.au] * Michael Bachelard and Cameron Houston * April 26, 2009 THE RSL plans to close up to 22 clubs to enable it to buy as many poker machines as possible after the State Government deregulates the industry. The first casualties of the Returned and Services League push to boost gaming revenues are seven elderly former servicement, set to be evicted so the Caulfield branch can sell their hostel. Club president John Decker has told members the sale would help clear the club's bank debt "and invest for the upcoming gaming and operational changes". Mr Decker told a special meeting last November that "the state branch of the RSL is currently reviewing all Victorian RSLs to establish which ones will be retained after 2010, when we must apply to become owner-operators under the new gaming legislation. We must, therefore, demonstrate to the state branch our viability to operate." The seven veterans are making a last-ditch plea to the club's annual general meeting this morning to overturn the decision to sell their home. Caufield RSL branch minutes, obtained by The Sunday Age, state that the state branch had "already indicated that out of the â€¦ licensed sub-branches in Victoria, approximately 22 are seen as being unable to demonstrate financial stability, and will close". RSL director Mark Johnson denied he had specified how many of Victoria's 68 clubs with gaming licences would be shut, but agreed the number of clubs in Victoria would need to be "consolidated". "At some stage there will be RSLs that have served their purpose in the community and will no longer be able to exist," he said. Individual branches would be asked to decide their futures. "The reality is that if you don't have a membership base or infrastructure, the relevance and purpose of a club has to be questioned." Previous moves to close branches have provoked intense backlashes from ex-servicemen. A revolt by members of the Hampton branch of the RSL thwarted the Victorian branch's push last year to close it down. The statewide rationalisation is driven by the State Government's new gaming model. The new law, to come into force in 2012, will compel individual clubs to buy, for the first time, entitlements to poker machines that are currently owned by Tattersall's and Tabcorp. The Caulfield RSL has 52 poker machines and would like to buy as many more, with a cost that some speculate would be as high as $5.2 million. The hostel, which it has owned since 1952, was valued at $1.6 million three years ago. "The situation appears to be that they'll clear the debt to get further into debt to buy pokies," said hostel resident and former army reservist Bruce Yemm, 71, who is fighting the club's decision. Neither Mr Yemm nor his mates, all pensioners aged between 64 and 77, want to move from the house they have lived in for up to 14 years. They cannot afford commercial rents in the area and have nowhere else to go. "I was planning for this to be my last home," said Tony Gould, 69, a 12-year veteran of the Royal Marines. The club has promised to find the men alternative accommodation, with Mr Decker telling The Sunday Age that their welfare was "number one". But the men remain sceptical. "My beef is mainly with the Government," said hostel resident and former army reservist David Dew, 64. "It's the lack of a decision on the legislation. They haven't told us the full story and it's panicking a lot of organisations like the RSL into making decisions without knowing anything." The minutes of a special meeting of the Caulfield club in November reveal it was attended by just 54 of its more than 600 voting members and the resolution to sell the hostel was passed by 25 votes to 23. Mr Johnson said he had told the Government that "if the price of the poker machine entitlements reaches a certain point, we would have to pull out (of the bidding)". If the RSL finds itself unable to afford to buy any of the 3200 poker machine entitlements it now operates, it would radically recast its role and presence in the community. "Obviously we would like to keep our poker machine entitlements, but we know there's a chance that won't be possible," Mr Johnson said. Clubs Victoria executive director Margaret Kearney warned that the Government's decision to sell poker machine entitlements to the highest bidder threatened hundreds of community clubs. "How is a small suburban RSL club supposed to compete with an AFL club in an auction process? These changes could wipe out the entire not-for-profit sector," she said. The gaming legislation is stuck in the upper house over concerns from the Opposition and Greens that it provides inadequate protection to problem gamblers and small clubs. The Government argues that pubs and clubs will have more control over their operations and a larger slice of revenue from gaming that "flows back into venues and the local community".