A gambling investigations official with the New South Wales (NSW) state government has warned that billions of dollars in criminal proceeds are likely being laundered in slot machines across Australia.
David Byrne, director of investigations and intervention with Liquor & Gaming NSW, told news outlets, including the 60 Minutes television programme, that pubs and clubs hosting slot machines should be placed on notice.
“I think, based on what we’re finding, they [the public, the pubs and clubs] need a wake-up call, definitely,” he said.
Byrne also suggested that the “pokies” industry in the state may require formal scrutiny along the lines of the NSW state Bergin Inquiry into Crown Resorts or the current enhanced review into The Star Entertainment Group’s casino in Sydney.
“If it’s good for [the casinos] then it’s probably good for the clubs as well,” he said.
The official’s comments are notable given that they come from a rarely heard section of the NSW government’s gaming bureaucracy, but also because of clear messaging that the problem is out of hand.
They are also notable for appearing in the Nine newspapers and 60 minutes coverage, whose prime mover journalist Nick McKenzie led the earlier media probes into Crown Resorts, The Star and other gaming interests or affiliates.
The reports by McKenzie and his colleagues helped to trigger the Bergin Inquiry and Royal Commission investigations into Crown in Victoria and Western Australia states.
Since the end of pandemic lockdown measures in Sydney in recent weeks, Byrne said his investigative unit had identified 140 pubs and clubs and more than 130 individual gamblers linked to money laundering in the city’s metropolitan area.
The volume of money being laundered in this region alone likely amounted to “hundreds of millions of dollars”, and “possibly billions” nationwide, Byrne said.
“You’re talking about, at the worst level, child exploitation, human trafficking, firearms trafficking … terrorism funding; all of those can be packaged up in the same conversation as money laundering,” he said.
The reports also noted the outsize influence of lobby group ClubsNSW on government because of its extensive donations across political parties.
ClubsNSW is one of the most potent and aggressive of Australia’s lobby groups, recently succeeding in a campaign to crush NSW customer service minister Victor Dominello’s floated reforms — including cashless cards — that would have attacked money laundering at slot machine venues.
This policy failure, together with the profound influence of the gambling lobby in general in state and federal parliaments, makes Byrne’s public intervention all the more significant.
The reports noted that other state and federal law enforcement authorities are similarly concerned about the extent of money laundering in the pokies industry.
In only one example of brazen money laundering, a woman washed at least A$38m ($27.2m) in criminal proceeds at slots parlours across NSW, Victoria and the capital Canberra.
The same woman had been excluded from The Star casino twice and several banks had monitored her activity, but she gambled with impunity when entering pubs and clubs, the reports said.