Berejiklian accused of kowtowing to gambling lobby over pokies pledge

Tim Costello criticises ‘disgraceful’ report that NSW premier promised not to increase gambling taxes if Liberals win next election

The New South Wales government has been accused of kowtowing to the powerful gambling lobby twice in a week – this time over curbs on poker machine harm.

Amid the furore over horse-racing advertising on the Sydney Opera House sails, the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has signed a new four-year poker machine memorandum of understanding with Clubs NSW.

Berejiklian has pledged to not increase gambling taxes should her government win the next state election in March.

Other measures include:

  • The level of mandatory contributions from clubs to the community to remain the same although they will able to ramp up support to drought-stricken communities including buying water and funding counselling.

  • Families will have the ability to ask gaming venues to ban pokies addicts.

  • The maximum amount of money loaded on a pokies machine will be cut from $7,500 to $5,000. But the amount remains the highest in the country.

  • Extra training for staff to identify problem gamblers.

  • Establishment of a regional club trainee employment program.

The NSW racing minister, Paul Toole, said the government recognised clubs were often a key point of connection in communities.

“They provide a place to socialise as well as a refuge in times of emergency,” he said in a statement.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesman Tim Costello was ropable on Sunday, characterising the so-called harm minimisation measures as “tinkering at the edges”.

He said he feared long overdue major poker machine reforms could be delayed in NSW until after 2023.

“Today’s report is particularly disgraceful … after the notorious Opera House saga which demonstrated to the world how the ruthless gambling industry has captured politicians in NSW,” Costello said.

“Gladys Berejiklian needs to explain why she has capitulated to the gambling industry twice in one week.”

Costello said $7bn a year was lost on the state’s 92,000 pokies, which equates to more than $1,000 a year for every NSW resident.

“Since the last memorandum of understanding with Clubs NSW was signed in October 2014, about $24bn has been lost on NSW poker machines because the pokies industry has negotiated the weakest pokies regulations in the world,” he said.

A week ago Berejiklian intervened to allow the Everest Cup horse race to be promoted on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, overriding an earlier veto by the Opera House chief executive, Louise Herron.

The move came hours after radio broadcaster Alan Jones had called for Herron to be sacked during a testy on-air confrontation on the issue. The decision faced a vocal public backlash.

Jones, incidentally, was listed as a speaker on the Club NSW’s conference this weekend in Sydney, along with former Labor federal minister turned gambling industry lobbyist Stephen Conroy.

The Clubs NSW chief executive officer, Anthony Ball, told the Daily Telegraph the latest deal would result in more charities and junior footy teams supported and more social infrastructure built.

Poker machine venues employ 43,000 people across the state including 23,000 in regional areas.

NSW clubs are expected to contribute $3.4bn to state government coffers over the next four years.

Further comment has been sought from Clubs NSW.


Lisa Martin

The GuardianTramp

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