“Poker machine reform is a serious public health issue, not a PR exercise; the ClubsNSW plan is as useful as a bandaid at a car crash”

Comments attributable to Rev Stu Cameron, Wesley Mission CEO and gambling reform advocate:

The dual problems of gambling harm and money laundering caused by poker machines are not new. But it’s only now that gambling reform is a key election issue that the gambling industry has paid any notice. The release today of a clubs self-regulatory Gaming Code of Practice is a last-ditch attempt to stave off significant and essential reforms. This Code is unenforceable and does not cover pubs, which take 44% of the losses in this state.

Last week, Wesley Mission released an analysis of Liquor and Gaming NSW’s data from Q3 2022 that revealed people across NSW lost $2.18 billion to poker machines in pubs and clubs in just 92 days. Of these losses, more than $1.2 billion is attributable to clubs.

Pubs and clubs haven’t effectively or consistently enforced self-exclusion in 20 years. The recent compliance audit by Liquor and Gaming found “around one in five venues is potentially in breach of gaming laws aimed at preventing or reducing gambling harm”1.This is an industry where venues have unlawfully moved ATMs into the gambling room – deliberately creating conditions that assist money launderers and leading to greater harms for patrons. Wesley Mission has made a formal complaint about venues where disabled access is also unlawfully only available through gambling rooms.

The public has no faith that clubs will enforce an essentially voluntary code if they have not upheld their community obligations over the last decades. It’s why we have called to establish a single, state-wide self-exclusion register funded by gambling taxation revenue, managed independently from the gambling industry, and overseen by an appropriate independent statutory body.

We would not let Philip Morris write the regulations for cigarettes. We should no longer allow an industry that has demonstrably failed to uphold Responsible Conduct of Gambling provisions, and not complied with anti-money laundering guidelines to evade external regulation based on independent research and community expectations. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent creating highly addictive poker machines – there are 86,000 of them in our cities, suburbs and towns. Poker machine reform is a serious public health issue, not a PR exercise.

Family-initiated requests for exclusion are an important issue that needs sensitive and expert handling. However, the majority of harm which is being experienced in pub and club gambling rooms does not lead to these requests, and it is time our decision-makers acknowledged that regulation of the gambling industry requires policies that go beyond those people whom venues have allowed to gamble too much.

Pre-commitment in the form of a cashless card will empower people to take control of their gambling and is a powerful initiative. Our design for a cashless card will help prevent people from being harmed – the ClubsNSW plan is as useful as a bandaid at a car crash. Facial recognition technology (FRT) is not a valid harm minimisation tool – if FRT is being used to exclude people from gambling, then the gambling harm has already occurred.

A mandatory, universal cashless card will have everything necessary to provide an effective state-wide, self-exclusion system, preventing money laundering and significantly reducing gambling harm.

The only thing that would stop NSW from introducing such a card is political will and courage. The technology is there, the community appetite is there, and the need is very much there, desperately so.

[1]Liquor and Gaming eNews Dec 2022: https://enews.liquorandgaming.nsw.gov.au/link/id/zzzz63c735f73323a964Rzzzz6309b6c6a6047685/page.html

Wesley Mission provides practical care and support for more than 130,000 people annually in NSW and across Australia, including help for people experiencing homelessness, local community action groups preventing suicide, and gambling and financial counselling among more than 120 programs. www.wesleymission.org.au

Rev Stu Cameron is available for interview.

Media contacts:

Anne Holt on 0418 628 342 or anne.holt@wesleymission.org.au

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