Former NSW Gaming Minister Calls For Probe Into Slots Lobby

March 14, 2023
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A former minister for gaming in the New South Wales (NSW) state government has called for an inquiry into aggressive pubs and clubs gaming lobby ClubsNSW “for the sake of our democracy”.

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A former minister for gaming in the New South Wales (NSW) state government has called for an inquiry into aggressive pubs and clubs gaming lobby ClubsNSW “for the sake of our democracy”.

Outgoing NSW Cabinet minister Victor Dominello told the Four Corners investigative news program on Monday night (March 13) that the high degree of influence that ClubsNSW wields over politicians demands a response from government.

“For the sake of our democracy, I really believe that this is an issue that the next term of government should address,” he said.

Dominello alleged that “intense” ClubsNSW lobbying resulted in his loss of the gambling portfolio in 2021. He is retiring from parliament this month as minister for several other portfolios, including small business and fair trading.

“An inquiry or some other examination [is needed] to make sure that MPs [members of parliament] are not cowed into moving a certain way because of this powerful industry,” he said.

Dominello was speaking 12 days ahead of the state election, in which the ruling Liberal government is facing a strong challenge from the opposition Labor party.

Slot machines have become one of the key campaign issues, with conservative Premier Dominic Perrottet committing to reforms that have riled the gaming lobby, including Dominello’s own attempt to implement cashless gaming at pubs and clubs.

Labor leader Chris Minns has refused to support Perrottet’s reforms despite a major NSW Crime Commission report in October supporting cashless gaming as a bulwark against money laundering.

Instead, Minns is backing a trial for a limited number of machines.

ClubsNSW’s initial response to Perrottet’s hard line triggered its board’s sacking of CEO Josh Landis, whose reference to Perrottet’s “conservative Catholic gut” angered politicians across the spectrum and elicited denunciations in the media.

Landis has occupied a central role in ClubsNSW’s evolution as one of Australia’s most ruthless lobby groups, stemming in part from strategies learned from a National Rifle Association seminar he attended with a colleague in Washington in 2012.

Dominello alluded to that history in his Monday interview.

ClubsNSW “are the equivalent of the gun lobby in the United States. There's just no mistake about that. Our blind spot is poker machines and [ClubsNSW is] extraordinarily powerful,” he said.

But the removal of Landis from ClubsNSW may indicate the group has passed the peak of its power.

The post-Landis board has settled its lawsuit against whistleblower Troy Stolz, a terminally ill activist who allegedly leaked incriminating documents on pub and club compliance and accused ClubsNSW of standing guard amid evidence of money laundering in the pubs and clubs sector.

The lobby group’s future may hinge on the result of the election, Dominello said.

“Right now, I think the power of ClubsNSW is on the line, but it's a fork in the road moment in many ways. Because if they succeed in this election [with a Labor party victory] … then they will become even more emboldened, because they will go around and say, ‘See what we did? See how powerful we are?’

“We will defang the lobby group if we succeed with the cashless gaming, because it shows then that people power, public interest can defeat vested interests.”

Anti-gambling federal lawmaker Andrew Wilkie, an independent, agreed, telling Four Corners that the challenge to ClubsNSW power amid an election campaign is a “watershed moment”.

“If we can get deep reform in NSW, then I'm in no doubt that reform will roll out across the whole country,” Wilkie said.

“New South Wales has half the poker machines in Australia, half the gambling addicts in Australia, and historically the most powerful gambling lobby in Australia. So, if we get reform there, we've cracked the nut.”

Meanwhile, Premier Perrottet has denied that ClubsNSW pressure had a role to play in the removal of Dominello.

Responding to advance screenings for the media of the Four Corners program, Perrottet noted his support for cashless gaming and reform of political donations, the Guardian reported.

However, Perrottet did not embrace Dominello’s call for an inquiry into the gaming lobby, instead saying he would take advice on the matter before proceeding.

Following their critical role in the humbling and punishment of casino operators Crown Resorts and The Star Entertainment Group, major mass media outlets in NSW have turned on the slot machine lobby in recent times, despite shared pro-business and conservative standpoints.

A Sydney Morning Herald report on Monday (March 13), for example, frowned on “educational tours” to the G2E event in Las Vegas, New York, and other US locations for club managers, funded by leading electronic gaming machine manufacturer Aristocrat Leisure.

The newspaper on Monday also ran an op-ed by the manager of a slots-free club in inner Sydney who argued slot machines are “anti-business and anti-innovation”.

“They make businesses lazy. They make governments lazy,” Petersham Bowling Club president George Catsi wrote.

“They serve as a form of social subsidy stopping businesses from failing when they should."

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