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Last October, an NSW cabinet member, Victor Dominello, proposed revolutionary reforms to alcohol and gambling laws, which he oversees. One of the most controversial elements of the proposal was the plan to move pokie players from the odd pineapple to the slots in order to register money and pre-load it onto regulated, cashless cards tied to the player’s identity.
The idea was that such a card would help curb the activity of problem gamblers – with the added factor that it could also curb money laundering in arcades.
On February 9, alcohol and gambling laws and their possible reform came into the spotlight when former Supreme Court Justice Patricia Bergin tabled a report that followed an 18-month investigation into Crown Resorts into allegations of money laundering were revealed. In her comments to the Independent Alcohol and Gambling Authority, she said that such a card could be a “powerful mechanism” against organized crime.
The plan for the card was developed in response to a 12 percent increase in poker machine spending during the COVID-19 pandemic – the largest annual increase in Liquor and Gaming NSW’s history.
How would such a card work? What are the criticisms of it? And why maybe we need one?
What is the gambling card and how would it work?
The government has proposed that all “slot machine” players register and pre-load money onto a government-regulated card that works similarly to the state’s cashless Opal cards (intended for public transportation). Players would need a card to play on a machine.
The card aims to reduce both gaming damage and money laundering in NSW, which has been dubbed the “Non-Casino Pokies Capital of the World” by the head of Alliance for Gambling Reform, Tim Costello.
The card would be monitored by the data protection officer and linked to the state’s existing exclusion register, which is intended to prevent thousands of self-excluded players from accessing poker machines. Individuals sign a certificate asking to be banned from one or more venues.
If you are entered in the register, you cannot receive a card. There are currently no penalties for individuals or venues for violating the state’s exclusion register. In fact, the 2019 NSW Gambling Survey found that 92 percent of banned gamblers were able to enter a location where they shouldn’t be playing pokies.
Under the proposed reforms, which are separate from the card, venues would be fined $ 27,000 if found to violate self-exclusion restrictions. The proposal would also allow relatives of players to request that their loved ones be banned from venues.
Between July and December 2020, total slot machine profits were $ 4.4 billion, down from $ 4 billion in the last six months of 2019, despite pubs and clubs ceasing to trade due to restrictions that were put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Mr. Dominello, Minister of Customer Service, cited the death of Sydney man Gary Van Duinen, who committed suicide after a poker machine binge at Dee Why RSL, as part of the motivation behind the card proposal.
W.Why are we talking about it now?
Commissioner Bergin’s 800-page report on Crown’s suitability to retain the license to its new $ 2.2 billion Barangaroo casino found that Crown Sydney was not a “suitable person” to host one Owning a casino license, but there are steps the giant could take to make them eligible to own a license.
The report showed that Crown’s slot machines had been used to launder money in Melbourne and Perth casinos to put the spotlight on Mr Dominello’s card proposal.
Although the investigation’s report states that a gambling card is a “government matter,” it states that casinos are “free to implement their own mechanisms of a similar nature for their own customers.”
“In this regard, there is a recent development in NSW with a proposal to introduce a ‘gambling card’ that would allow cash tracking through a casino,” the report said.
How would a cashless card stop money laundering?
In money laundering, the origin of illegally obtained funds is concealed by a complex sequence of transfers or transactions. Slot machines and the larger gaming industry can aid this process as they are among the only areas where significant amounts of cash can flow into and out of a building, largely unregulated. The size and frequency of transactions make slot machines a perfect place to hide profits from nefarious or illegal deals.
For example, a person can join an RSL club, put $ 1000 in a machine, play for three minutes, and cash out most of that sum. This process is known as “cleaning money” and is a justification for the fact that a person has a lot of money to spend. When the individual is asked about the origin of the money? They just had a good day on the pokies.
About 20 percent of the $ 6 billion gamblers lose to slot machines each year is “almost certainly” linked to crime, according to estimates by the Australian Government’s expert group on gambling. This is because NSW has a very high “loading limit,” which means anyone can walk into a state pub or club and put $ 7,500 in a machine. Nowhere else in the country is it this high except in the ACT, where there are no limits.
In her latest report, Commissioner Bergin describes the gambling card as a “powerful” mechanism to help fight money laundering and problem gambling. “The proposal has been the subject of public debate and is not free from controversy. However, it appears that the card’s very significant utility in assisting the problematic player is not a problem. It is also evident that this would be an effective anti-money laundering mechanism. “
How many people have a gambling problem in NSW?
Just over half (53 percent) of NSW adults gamble according to the 2019 NSW Gambling Survey. The 2019 Problem Gambling Severity Index shows that 1 percent of NSW adults are problem gamblers.
If you are a single man between the ages of 18 and 24 who happens to be unemployed, the index shows that you are most likely 1 percent of adults who are problem gamblers.
The consequences of gambling are not limited to the player – an international study on gambling from 2017 found that for every problem gambler six people in their environment are financially, socially or psychologically affected.
What are the criticisms of the card?
NSW has 95,000 poker machines in 4,000 locations, including 1,500 in the Star Casino in Sydney. Overall, the NSW slot machine industry is valued at $ 6 billion. Its machines generate a whopping $ 1 billion in state taxes each year and create up to 100,000 jobs.
Clubs NSW has warned that this is the worst time to impose “expensive solutions” on clubs as they continue to grapple with the financial ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the cards are tied to a person’s identity, some fear that they could potentially cause a data breach and believe that the NSW clubs were not properly consulted in developing the plan.
Alliance for Gambling Reform’s Tim Costello has also raised concerns about the importance of the design of the cards not discouraging players from the value of losing real money, as this could have an inverse effect on curbing gambling damage.
Did a card work anywhere else?
This is the world’s first proposal to create cashless playing cards that combine a player’s identity with their preinstalled money and are accessible to a regulator and a relevant pub or club.
Nova Scotia, Canada, abandoned a playing card program in 2014 where players use pre-loaded cards instead of cash. Nova Scotia’s program was not identity-bound, however, so players could bypass the system by swapping, sharing, and hoarding multiple cards.
What are the next steps? Will a card be inserted?
Thanks to an unlikely alliance between the Greens and One Nation’s Mark Latham, Mr Dominello has enough Crossbench support in the House of Lords to suggest that card reform could pass despite Labor remains divided.
Church leaders have urged MPs to support both the gambling reform package and the card plan, as has former Labor Treasurer Michael Egan, who has asked those behind it to stand strong against a club industry campaign that is vehemently against it .
Former NSW union leader Michael Daley has sided with Clubs NSW, saying the card would destroy pubs and clubs that are still in trouble after pandemic-related closings.
Meanwhile, Mr Dominello needs the support of his cabinet colleagues for his ambitious card plan.
If you need help with a gambling-related problem, call the Gambling Assistance Hotline on 1800 858 858.
Lifeline crisis supporters can be reached by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 13 11 14.
Amelia McGuire is a producer for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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