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ABC News
ABC News

Crown Casino offers sponsorship to Victorian AFL clubs that have vowed to refuse gambling cash

Crown Casino in Melbourne's Southbank. (ABC News: Daniel Fermer, file photo)

Disgraced casino operator Crown Resorts is offering sponsorship deals to multiple AFL clubs that could see them abandon a pledge not to accept money from gambling companies.

ABC Investigations has confirmed Crown has approached the AFL and Victorian clubs with sponsorship proposals ahead of the start of this year's season.

All 10 Victorian clubs have signed up to "Love the Game, Not the Odds", a public responsible-gambling campaign that provides sporting clubs with government funding in return for a pledge not to accept sponsorship from gambling companies.

Now, however, North Melbourne, Carlton and St Kilda have not ruled out entering deals with Crown.

The Western Bulldogs and Geelong say they will honour their pledge to "Love the Game, Not the Odds"  and have rejected Crown's offer.

Essendon said it had not yet received an approach from Crown.

Richmond, Melbourne, Collingwood and Hawthorn have not responded to requests for comment.

Last year, Crown was fined $120 million for breaches of Victoria's responsible gambling rules.

The AFL already has a relationship with Crown and holds many of its major events, including the Brownlow Medal count, at its Melbourne casino.

But, in a statement, the AFL said it had no plans to enter any new arrangements with the casino.

"The AFL confirms details of a Crown Resorts sponsorship proposal was discussed at a recent club commercial meeting and sent to club sponsorship managers for an expression of interest," it said.

"The communication had not been considered or approved by the AFL Executive".

Crown declined to answer questions about the nature of its sponsorship offer, but in a statement said it already had longstanding relationships with the AFL and many clubs.

"As part of Future Crown, and as we once again take a central role at the heart of all things sports and entertainment in our cities, we are always exploring venue and hospitality partnership opportunities with a range of organisations," it said.

The “Love the Game, Not the Odds” program provides funding to sporting clubs that refuse gambling sponsorship. (Supplied: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation)

The "Love the Game, Not the Odds" program, run by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, is aimed at combating "the normalisation of sports gambling".

"Love the Game partners sign up to a charter that states they will not accept sponsorship, either revenue or in-kind, from gambling providers," foundation CEO Shane Lucas said.

"If a Love the Game partner did so, this would be contrary to the spirit of the program and a breach of contract."

More than 735 professional and amateur Victorian sporting clubs across Australian Rules football, cricket, soccer, netball and other sports have signed up to the program.

But the AFL, which counts Sportsbet among its major sponsors, has not been involved with the initiative.

The AFL is not part of the "Love the Game, Not the Odds" initiative and accepts sponsorship from gambling companies. (ABC News: Peter Healy, file photo)

Last year, the AFL reportedly removed a "Love the Game" advertisement from its website after acknowledging in internal emails that it conflicted with its Sportsbet sponsorship.

In 2021, a Victorian royal commission found Crown was unsuitable to hold a casino licence after finding it had "engaged in conduct that is, in a word, disgraceful".

The conduct included underpayments of gambling taxes, illegal promotion of gambling overseas and mistreatment of customers experiencing problem gambling.

A Victorian royal commission in 2021 found Crown had committed "disgraceful" conduct but did not recommend its licence be immediately revoked. (ABC News: Jane Cowan, file photo)

Anti-money-laundering regulator Austrac is currently suing Crown in the Federal Court for alleged serious and systemic non-compliance with Australia's anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing laws.

US-based private equity firm Blackstone bought Crown in 2022 and the company's new leadership has since promised to deliver a transformation program to improve its compliance with gambling and consumer laws.

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