ClubsNSW, a powerful and aggressive lobby for pubs and clubs and the slot machine industry, is facing unprecedented pressure after the New South Wales (NSW) state premier and billionaire James Packer separately warned and attacked the group.
The head of Australia's most populous state has pledged to crack down on the powerful slots industry.
In a national political culture shaped by industry donations and the world’s highest gaming spend per capita, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s singling out of ClubsNSW for needing to take “moral responsibility” for responsible gambling seriously is an extraordinary development.
The comment precedes the release of a joint report by the NSW Crime Commission and the NSW gaming regulator into money laundering through slot machines, a probe with the potential to damage the segment as much as similar government probes damaged casino operators Crown Resorts and The Star Entertainment Group.
The conservative Catholic premier told reporters on Sunday (October 2) that parliament’s tolerance of aberrant gambling in the slot machine segment may be reaching a breaking point.
“It has always sat incredibly uncomfortably with me in government: the amount of money we receive in tax revenue from pokies,” he said.
“In essence, we’re taxing on the misery of others. It has to stop, we need to do better, and I'm going to address it.
“I don’t care about vested interests. I don’t care. We’ll do what is right.”
Former Crown Resorts mogul James Packer has also injected himself into the debate, making comments on the gambling industry for the first time since regulators forced him to divest himself of billions of dollars’ worth of Crown shares and exit the industry.
Packer, whose gaming interests included online operations, told the Sydney Morning Herald in a written statement that ClubsNSW was indulging in “ruthless unethical behaviour” by suing a terminally ill whistleblower.
The lobby group is litigating against former employee and cancer sufferer Troy Stolz, who revealed extensive money laundering breaches in the state’s pubs and clubs scene.
“It beggars belief that ClubsNSW ... [hasn’t] yet worked out that this ruthless unethical behaviour is damaging the reputation of the wider clubs industry,” Packer said.
“Who on earth sues a dying man? They should withdraw all litigation against Troy Stolz and apologise immediately so he can fully focus on his treatment.”
Any legislative response by Perrottet’s conservative government appears to be linked to the Crime Commission report.
But anti-gambling forces led by Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesperson Reverend Tim Costello have already called Perrottet’s intervention “historic”.
Still, Perrottet also called for closer cooperation between government and industry, even as the government confirmed that a 12-week cashless card pilot scheme opposed by industry has been delayed.
“This should not be and cannot turn into government versus clubs,” he said. “ClubsNSW has a moral responsibility to make sure they do everything they can to reduce problem gambling.”
Paul Newson, formerly the NSW government’s top gambling bureaucrat and now principal at the advisory arm of gaming law firm Senet Legal, said the Crime Commission report “will be an invaluable resource for the sector and regulators to better understand the risks and address any significant gaps in the regulatory framework and supervisory approach”.
But Newson told VIXIO GamblingCompliance today that “we are seeing [compliance] innovation and venues going above and beyond statutory requirements to ensure they have the best possible safeguards”.
He said further reform is needed to measure and prevent gambling harm.
However, “the most recent problem gambling prevalence survey in NSW showed a slight but not statistically significant increase in problem gambling from the 2011 problem gambling prevalence rate of 0.8 percent to 1 percent of the NSW population as problem gamblers”.