More poker machines could be set for Star Sydney

By William Brown Updated
Star Sydney has a new CEO

An extra 1000 poker machines could find their way to Sydney’s Star Casino, with the NSW government considering allowing machines to be transferred from poor performing pokies in regional areas of the state.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that NSW Cabinet will consider a proposal to transfer 1000 under-used gaming machine licences from clubs in regional NSW to the city’s casino, just months after a damaging report into the gaming industry.

Money laundering emerged as a major issue for the gambling industry after the Bergin inquiry found evidence dirty money had been washed through Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.

The gambling giant was found “unfit” to hold a gaming licence for the casino at Barangaroo after a year-long inquiry instigated by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority.

Commissioner Bergin said an examination of the 2019 investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald into Crown that sparked the inquiry confirmed Crown had “facilitated money laundering” through its bank accounts.

The chair of the NSW regulator Phillip Crawford later warned money laundering was also occurring in NSW.

“Where do the money launderers take their money…we just don’t want it washing into the suburban pubs and clubs,” Mr Crawford said.

Underperforming regional pokies shifted as part of proposal

The NSW government is likely to support the transfer of poker machines licences to the Star because it believes the casino can be more highly regulated than some smaller venues in regional NSW.

Poker machines are dispersed across 4000 venues in NSW, with only 1500 of the total 96,000 machines currently in the Star casino in Pyrmont.

But the plan before the state cabinet will see that number significantly increased at the Star.

More than $2.2 billion was lost to pokies in NSW pubs and clubs in the first four months of this year, with almost $600 million collected by poker machines in April alone, up 12.58 per cent on April 2019.

The minister responsible for gaming, Victor Dominello, has been advocating for a gaming card to combat problem gambling and money laundering, with the first “digital wallet” program to be trialled in August.

Led by Aristocrat Gaming and Wests Newcastle, a 12-week trial will trigger cashless payments for electronic gaming machines, with built-in features like time and spending limits.

Commissioner Bergin’s report said a gambling card would be a powerful tool to combat money laundering and organised crime.

The most recent figures from Liquor and Gaming NSW reveal poker machines in Canterbury-Bankstown took in almost $48 million in profits in April, or more than $1.5 million a day.

In Fairfield, pokies collected more than $47 million.

Cumberland, Sydney and Blacktown councils were close behind, where profits in each area ranged from $96 million to $116 million for the month.

Support for cashless gaming trial

Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Tim Costello said the cashless gaming trial indicated the NSW government “seems to have finally recognised the immense damage poker machines do in the state.”

“It is immensely encouraging to have a minister responsible for gambling in NSW seeking significant reform to support people experiencing issues with gambling, and also speaking about the harms poker machines do in what is effectively the non-casino pokies capital of the world.”

The group was waiting for more information on how the card scheme would work, but Mr Costello said: “Our main concern would be if people lost the sense of losing ‘real’ money if everything was digital, but this could be overcome with the right design and functionality.

“The government must look at safeguards to ensure there are no unintended consequences that increase harm.”

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