Cashless pokies could be coming to NSW

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
Queanbeyan poker machines do a roaring trade

Cashless poker machines in New South Wales have been welcomed by anti-gambling advocates.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the state government is proposing reforms that would require poker machine gamblers to register and pre-load money to a government-issued card, which would operate in a similar way to cashless Opal cards for the public transport network.

The card would be linked to the state’s exclusion register to prevent it being used by thousands of self-excluded gamblers.

The state’s clubs were surprised by the proposal on Saturday.

Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Tim Costello said the scheme indicated the NSW government “seems to have finally recognised the immense damage poker machines do in the state.”

“It is immensely encouraging to have a minister responsible for gambling in NSW seeking significant reform to support people experiencing issues with gambling, and also speaking about the harms poker machines do in what is effectively the non-casino pokies capital of the world.”

The group was waiting for more information on how the card scheme would work, but Mr Costello said: “Our main concern would be if people lost the sense of losing ‘real’ money if everything was digital, but this could be overcome with the right design and functionality.

“The government must look at safeguards to ensure there are no unintended consequences that increase harms.”

Senior cabinet minister Victor Dominello, who has responsibility for gambling, has crossbench support in the upper house for the proposed changes, including from the Greens and one Nation’s Mark Latham, to ensure the new laws can pass.

Mr Dominello last week released draft harm minimisation legislation for public consultation, which suggested facial recognition could be used to identify problem gamblers.

The gambling card was not included in the draft bill, but Mr Dominello has been consulting widely with his colleagues and MPs from all parties to shore up support for it.

A ClubsNSW spokeswoman said on Saturday the proposal for a cashless gambling scheme had not been mentioned in the draft legislation and “appears to have caught everyone by surprise.”

“ClubsNSW looks forward to the opportunity to engage with the NSW government in a construction and respectful manner.”

A spokesman for The Star casino at Pyrmont said the organisation looked “forward to engaging with government on the details of what has been mentioned.”

The NSW Australian Hotels Association declined to comment.

Labor gaming spokeswoman Sophie Cotsis did not respond to requests for comment.

ClubsNSW and the hotels association have previously criticised the draft harm minimisation legislation, saying that measures such as facial recognition would cost the industry millions of dollars when it was already under additional pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Dominello said NSW had the inevitable title of the “poker machine capital of Australia” and he was determined to use technology to bring the $6 billion gaming industry into the 21st century.

Canberra residents crossing border to play pokies

Residents of Canberra who are prevented from playing pokie machines near their home due to COVID-19 restrictions are crossing into New South Wales to play. 

The Canberra Times reported in August that up to 40 per cent of patrons of border town clubs in New South Wales are actually from the ACT.

Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said reports coming from pubs and clubs in Queanbeyan were that almost half of those signing in were from Canberra.

Mr Rees said NSW clubs were seeing an extraordinary turnaround in food and beverage trade, while ACT clubs remained closed to gamblers.

Queanbeyan Leagues Club general manager Jeremy Wyatt confirmed that since NSW had been given the green light to reopen on June 1, they had been busier than ever.

“Our trade has been up since reopening when compared to pre COVID-19 restrictions, we think largely due to the increase in patronage from the ACT,” Mr Wyatt said.

“Broadly speaking, we know we have had an increase in patronage from ACT residents as every person must register when they enter the club.

“The club has performed well since restrictions, even with all the extra work involved in cleaning, monitoring social distancing and other requirements that come with having a COVID-safe business.”

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