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Perrottet has rolled the dice. Now Minns must up the ante

Rev Tim Costello

6 Feb 2023

I have had the tragic duty of presiding over the funerals of six people who have committed suicide due to their gambling. Their losses, their shame, their losing battle to stop gambling – all became too much. The pain suffered by family and friends is indescribable. The loss of life is so senseless and horrific. It is why I have been such a prominent campaigner for gambling reform for more than three decades.

And I am thrilled that poker machine reform has become a central feature of the NSW election campaign. To have imagined this would happen in NSW – which is the belly of the beast for the poker machine industry – is almost beyond belief.

Premier Dominic Perrottet’s proposed reforms are very significant. They represent the most significant and wide-ranging poker machine reforms that I have seen in more than 30 years of campaigning to limit gambling harm.

While they are not perfect, they get the majority of the policy right, and most central is a mandatory cashless gambling card linked to an individual who has to prove their identity. This will combat the billions of dollars poured into poker machines in pubs and clubs for money laundering or simply the proceeds of crime. It’s also an effective way to reduce the harm that comes when there are no controls at all on gambling spending.

Another key feature is that the card will require people to set limits before gambling. Once that limit is reached they are blocked temporarily from losing more money. And these cards cannot be linked to credit cards, only debit accounts.

But the policy could be better. We believe the transition of the 90,000 machines in NSW to become cashless could have happened in four years, not five.

Also, those default limits need to be defined. We recommend those limits be set at $100 a day. The effectiveness of Victoria’s “YourPlay” scheme was undermined by Crown Casino staff who recommended punters set their loss limit at $1 million a day, the 2021 royal commission into Crown heard.

We can’t trust the ruthless and predatory gambling industry not to bypass these harm minimisation measures and push for daily maximum loss limits in the stratosphere.

But despite the shortcomings of the Perrottet policy, they are still damn good. And they are light years ahead of what Opposition Leader Chris Minns is proposing.

The focus must now be on Minns to abandon his policy for a flawed and unnecessary trial – a policy essentially written by the big clubs – and deliver bipartisan support for real reforms in NSW.

We must not allow the deep pockets and the aggressive and misleading lobbying of ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association to manipulate the election campaign, stalling any change that will help reduce gambling harm.

If Chris Minns commits to support the introduction of a mandatory cashless card, he will show true leadership, be tough on crime and be a champion of many struggling communities (many of which are located in seats held by the ALP) where gambling hits the hardest, sucking millions of dollars out of local communities and destroying lives.

Providing bipartisan support for the introduction of a mandatory cashless card in all NSW pubs and clubs would totally neuter the misleading, bullying and aggressive lobbying tactics of the gambling industry. This is what has happened in Tasmania, and it has left the industry powerless to stall real reforms to protect people from gambling harm.

Of course, the key now in NSW is not only introducing a cashless gambling card but getting it right.

That is why the Alliance for Gambling Reform has released a definitive position paper on the best model for a cashless gambling card.

The position paper includes 14 recommendations and highlights the critical importance of any cashless gambling card being mandatory and ensuring that each card is registered to an individual user.

The position paper also outlines a model that will work to reduce harm, remove the risk of criminal activity and address the glaring problems in the industry highlighted by successive inquiries.

Australia has 76 per cent of the world’s non-casino poker machines (machines in pubs and clubs). Half of these are in NSW.Australians lose more than $25 billion each year on a range of gambling products, and at least half of these losses are through poker machines. In NSW, $23 million is lost every day through pokies in pubs and clubs.

We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this right. I will continue to fight for reform. It is all I can do so that I won’t have to continue to preside over another funeral for someone who has taken their life because of the terrible toll of poker machines.

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