The head of the New South Wales (NSW) state gambling regulator complained to government officials in December that his agency had “very few regulatory levers to pull” on the poker machine (slots) industry, according to leaked documents.
Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA) chair Philip Crawford told the meeting of NSW Cabinet ministers, public servants and law enforcement officials that “the industry doesn’t want us anywhere near it”, amid reports of rampant money laundering in pubs and clubs, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Friday (May 13).
Crawford’s comments were included in notes of several meetings in December, in which NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith warned that Australian state and federal government agencies are being heavily outclassed by organised crime.
The Sydney Morning Herald report is noteworthy because it points to gaming regulator dissatisfaction at the support provided by the conservative government of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.
Smith excoriated government regulation of gambling, describing it as “too little, too late”, the report said.
The report also notes that Crawford and the ILGA requested but failed to secure a public inquiry into money laundering and other aberrant matters involving slot machines in NSW state’s ubiquitous pub and club scene.
Instead, Perrottet backed a NSW Crime Commission inquiry into money laundering in licensed (liquor-serving) premises across the state, in conjunction with the ILGA and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
But unlike the ILGA’s ongoing review into The Star Entertainment Group’s Sydney casino and the NSW Bergin inquiry before it into Crown Resorts, the Crime Commission inquiry is not based on public hearings and does not have the powers of a Royal Commission, significantly reducing potential embarrassment for individuals, companies and other interests in the slots industry.
Former NSW gaming minister Victor Dominello is quoted in the meeting notes as telling the police assistant commissioner that the gaming lobby would use high-level political connections to counter his reforms for slots, including the introduction of a cashless gaming card floated by the Bergin Inquiry and Victoria state’s Royal Commission into Crown Resorts.
“The gambling lobby is very, very powerful and they have very, very deep roots inside the Cabinet and [Labor party] opposition,” Dominello was quoted as telling Smith.
Five months later, Dominello was replaced as gaming minister in a Cabinet reshuffle.
The Sydney Morning Herald report was written by Nick McKenzie, whose previous reporting helped to trigger Crown probes in NSW and Victoria and place pressure on the NSW regulator to enhance its review into Star Entertainment.
In relation to The Star casino in Sydney, Smith said its slots floor was targeted by a major money laundering syndicate.
He added that NSW’s “clubs are either turning a blind eye, or being utilised to launder large sums of money”, the report said.
“We don’t want a club industry and pub industry following the same stupid operational model” as other businesses infiltrated by bikie gangs and organised crime, but the government “hasn’t got the weaponry”, Smith said.
At about the same time as the December meetings, a senior official with the NSW government’s gambling bureaucracy warned in a rare public intervention that billions of dollars are being laundered through slot machines across Australia.
David Byrne, director of investigations for Liquor & Gaming NSW, who supported a formal inquiry into the segment, said hundreds of millions of dollars were being laundered in NSW alone.
Crawford has not commented on the latest Sydney Morning Herald report.