The CEO of ClubsNSW, Australia’s most formidable gambling lobby, has been sacked after criticising the “conservative Catholic gut” of the New South Wales (NSW) state premier regarding cashless gambling reform.
ClubsNSW said in a statement that its board met on Tuesday (January 31) to discuss CEO Josh Landis’ remarks about Premier Dominic Perrottet and ended his appointment with immediate effect.
“The board acknowledges Josh Landis’ exemplary service to the industry over more than 15 years through some very difficult times. We genuinely wish him all the best in his future endeavours,” it said.
“The board will consider its next steps and has no further comment at this point in time.”
Amid an increasingly toxic, pre-election debate on introducing cashless gaming for slot machines in the state’s pubs and clubs, Landis’ comments to the Sydney Morning Herald united Cabinet ministers and key politicians across parliament in calling for his resignation.
Landis on Monday had accused Perrottet of creating “hyper-anxiety among the industry and among people who go to clubs, and hyper-excitement among those who want reform".
“I think it's fair to say that the premier has very little understanding of this issue and has acted from his conservative Catholic gut rather than based on evidence,” he said.
Landis apologised on Tuesday, adding that his intervention was “not a premeditated comment or an intentional attack on the premier personally”.
But it was too late for the ClubsNSW supremo, with Perrottet calling his remarks “incredibly inappropriate and offensive” and “an attack on every single person of faith in our state”.
Opposition Labor leader Chris Minns, who has sided with gaming interests and is less receptive to cashless gaming reforms, nonetheless accused Landis of “sectarian and discriminatory language” unheard of “for decades inside our political system and our political conversation”.
Influential independent lawmaker and cashless gaming advocate Alex Greenwich launched a new attack on Landis in response to the comments, lamenting that he had “ignored” an NSW Crime Commission report that found billions of dollars are being laundered in the state’s pubs and clubs.
Greenwich also accused Landis of turning ClubsNSW into a “political operation” modelled on activities of the US National Rifle Association (NRA), a hardline lobby whose methods Landis had studied, including attending an NRA forum in Washington in 2012.
In a scathing editorial on Tuesday, the conservative Sydney Morning Herald said ClubsNSW’s opposition to reforms combating problem gambling and money laundering in favour of its own code of practice pointed to “unclear” values.
“They certainly don’t align with the majority of NSW residents who recognise poker machines and the lobbyists who support them have strangled this state for too long.
“ClubsNSW is rapidly losing skin in this debate. It can be a helpful participant and good social citizen or it can continue its destructive and divisive tactics. The board must consider which path it chooses to travel.
“It has made a good start by terminating Landis’ employment. The next step is to reconsider its pigheaded opposition to meaningful reform.”
Long a feared and effective lobby group in political circles, ClubsNSW and its allies have been generating anger within and outside the industry over its legal war on an industry whistleblower.
But the lobby finally appears to have over-reached in its fight with Perrottet ahead of the NSW state election in late March.
Outgoing transport minister David Elliott, a former deputy CEO of the Australian Hotels Association, former director of the Castle Hill RSL club and opponent of gaming reform, in early January triggered a crisis when he revealed that Perrottet had worn a Nazi costume for his 21st birthday party.
Earlier in January, Elliott belatedly recused himself from Cabinet discussions of gaming policy because his son is an employee of Australian gaming machine manufacturer and software heavyweight Aristocrat Leisure.
On Monday, the day of Landis’ “conservative Catholic gut” comment, the ABC television station’s investigative programme Four Corners broadcast a probe into allegedly inappropriate practices of schools run by ultra-conservative Catholic group Opus Dei.
Infrastructure and transport minister Rob Stokes accused Landis and ClubsNSW of a “cynical attempt to capitalise on the ABC’s attacks on the premier’s religion”.
Perrottet, who attended one of the Opus Dei schools, said education standards authorities are investigating the claims.