Billions in ‘dirty’ money going into NSW pokies should be addressed by cashless gaming card, crime commission says

Review finds measure is needed to break ‘link between organised crime and gaming machines’

New South Wales should introduce a cashless gambling card to address the billions of dollars in “dirty” money being gambled in pubs and clubs in the state every year, the state’s crime commission has found.

On Wednesday a joint law enforcement agency inquiry into money laundering in NSW issued a damning final report that found “large sums” of the proceeds of crime are gambled by criminals in pubs and clubs across the state, “rewarding and perpetuating crime in the community”.

Led by the powerful New South Wales Crime Commission, the report also called for the introduction of a cashless gambling card to combat what it called “a $95bn-a-year information black hole”.

In findings that will heap pressure on the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, to introduce a cashless gambling card, the commission found its introduction would be a valuable tool in “breaking the link between organised crime and gaming machines”.

A cashless gambling card was championed by former gaming minister Victor Dominello before he was removed from the portfolio last year.

The technology is opposed by the sector’s main lobby group, Clubs NSW, which has instead pushed to introduce facial recognition technology in pubs and clubs across the state as part of a controversial harm-reduction measure.

The premier said earlier this month that the gambling sector was “taxing on the misery of others”.

“Whatever is happening now is not working. It’s got to change,” Perrottet said.

In December the crime commission, which has royal commission-style powers and investigates serious crime, announced it would run a dedicated inquiry into money laundering via the state’s poker machines.

It has previously suggested some of the state’s gambling laws have increased the risk of money laundering through poker machines.

Its commissioner, Michael Barnes, said the review had found poker machines “offered criminals one of the last remaining safe havens where cash from criminal enterprises could be ‘cleaned’ or gambled with virtual impunity”.

“At the moment serious offenders can enter NSW pubs and clubs, sit down next to patrons in gaming rooms, and openly feed large sums of cash from their crimes into poker machines with no real fear of detection,” Barnes said.

“The lack of traceable data collected by [poker machines] means the exact scale of this criminal activity is impossible to determine but it is clear from our investigations it involves many billions of dollars every year.”

The introduction of the cashless gambling card, the inquiry found, would “minimise money laundering associated with [poker machines] by removing anonymity and increasing traceability of … related transactions”.

“This will enable law enforcement to identify and respond to money laundering and will improve data analytics around gambling and money laundering,” the report states.

The government is currently trialing a voluntary cashless gambling scheme in Newcastle, part of a compromise deal struck with the industry. But the commission was scathing in its assessment of a voluntary model, saying it would “not address money laundering as criminals dealing with the proceeds of crime will simply use cash”.

“A hybrid/voluntary system will likely make pubs and clubs more attractive venues for money launderers as hybrid player card systems could be exploited to make ‘cleaning’ easier,” the report found.

The commission also found that while the “cleaning” of the proceeds of crime was not widespread in clubs and pubs because it was inefficient “compared to other avenues for laundering”, large sums of the proceeds of crime “are being gambled by criminals in pubs and clubs across the state”.

“It is a deeply concerning peculiarity that in the largely cashless digital economy in which we live that gambling in NSW pubs and clubs remains a $95bn-a-year information black hole. Clearly, that cannot be allowed to continue, Barnes said.

The gaming minister, Kevin Anderson, has been contacted for comment.


Michael McGowan

The GuardianTramp

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