Candidate’s pokies claim blasted

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A Labor candidate in Saturday’s NSW election has been criticised over comments she made about poker machines at a campaign forum.

Candidates were asked to comment on what policies they would support to help problem gamblers during a “meet the candidates” event in Huskisson on the NSW south coast on March 14.

Labor’s South Coast candidate Liza Butler, a councillor on Shoalhaven City Council said, “Let’s strengthen clubs to self-regulate and trial a cashless card in Sydney, where the problem really is in western Sydney with lots of cultural groups and see if it actually works.”

Liza Butler, NSW Labor Candidate for South Coast. Picture: NCA NewsWireLiza Butler, NSW Labor Candidate for South Coast. Picture: NCA NewsWire

Ms Butler said she and her party supported a cashless gaming trial, though she believed gaming issues were under control in the regions.

“In regional areas, you can probably go and ask the guys here. They will know who comes in here. They monitor them. They are already doing facial recognition,” she said.

“There’s already regulation around that.”

Ms Butler has been contacted for additional comment.

Federal MP and national gaming reform advocate Andrew Wilkie told Ms Butler’s statements showed an “aversion to any meaningful gambling reform”.

Independent Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie. Picture: Martin Ollman/NCA NewsWireIndependent Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie. Picture: Martin Ollman/NCA NewsWire

“Liza Butler’s view that ‘the problem really is in Western Sydney with lots of cultural groups’ is patently ridiculous,” he said.

“The undeniable fact is that poker machine gambling addiction is to be found right throughout New South Wales and the only way to address it is reform throughout the state.”

Ms Butler also used the forum to declare money laundering through pokies was “extremely rare”.

“Money laundering is extremely rare these days. It’s probably the nail places where they only take cash is money laundering these days, and the laundromats.”

Ms Butler said it would be difficult for clubs to pivot away from pokies. Picture: NCA NewsWireMs Butler said it would be difficult for clubs to pivot away from pokies. Picture: NCA NewsWire

Ms Butler also believed there are few options for clubs wanting to pivot away from pokies.

“Most golf clubs do not – council owns the land, I don’t know where they’re going to pivot to.”

The comments were slammed by Troy Stolz, who was sued by Clubs NSW last year for blowing the whistle on the gaming industry’s noncompliance with money laundering laws.

Mr Stolz worked for Clubs NSW for eight years and was the organisation’s anti-money laundering, counter-terrorism financing compliance manager.

He is running as an independent in Kogarah on a gaming reform platform.

Mr Stolz told it’s likely “billions of dollars” are washed through the state’s pokies.

“In terms of money laundering not being conducted, or not existing in the industry – it’s absolutely rubbish,” he said.

Independent candidate for Kogarah, Troy Stolz. Picture: SuppliedIndependent candidate for Kogarah, Troy Stolz. Picture: Supplied

“Someone making this commentary that has obviously got no idea of the length and breadth that we have in terms of issues relating to money laundering and gambling harm in New South Wales.

“She quite clearly hasn’t read the New South Wales Crime Commissions’s 86 page (crime commission), or it’s misinformation.”

In October 2022, the NSW Crime Commission released the finding of its Inquiry into Money Laundering via Electronic Gaming Machines (EGM) in Hotels and Clubs.

Its findings suggest that some criminals claim their possession of large amounts of cash as EGM winnings, and it’s difficult to refute these claims.

The damning report found significant amounts of money laundering are happening in pubs and clubs in NSW, and current detection systems are inefficient in identifying all types of money laundering.

It said “billions” of dollars from EGM turnover are likely to be proceeds of crime and also found using EGMs to clean dirty money is high risk and inefficient.

It was revealed there was no mechanism to cancel a Responsible Conduct of Gambling (RCG) holder’s certification, and many venues lack anti/ money launderer or counter-terrorism programs and risk assessments tailored to their circumstances. And The venue staff were reported to often lack knowledge and training on such issues.

NSW has Australia’s highest load-up limits associated with EGMs in Australia, which the report found poses a money laundering vulnerability. EGM audit reports and player gambling histories lacked the detail needed to identify suspicious behaviour.

Michael Barnes, the NSW Crime Commission, made eight recommendations. The first was the “government introduce a mandatory cashless gaming system to minimise EGM related money laundering within pubs and clubs.”

Mr Stolz with gaming reform advocate Tim Costello.Mr Stolz with gaming reform advocate Tim Costello.

Citing a handful of regional clubs, including The Commercial Club in Albury, which has over 500 poker machines, Mr Stolz argued the regions are not spared from problem gambling as suggested by Ms Butler.

“Regional areas are impacted with losses as the as a Sydney area. So that’s just absolute garbage.”

Mr Stolz said for the government’s part, it had over the years been “reliant and very lazy” regarding gambling taxes – and it has spiralled out of control.

“I’m not anti-gambling, it is a choice, but we need to have tighter controls around regulation. The industry’s been unregulated for far too long.”

He told he was not seeking a total removal of pokies, but a good start would be cutting unused entitlements – which give the licensees the right to own and operate a single gaming machine at their venue.

“Why can’t the industry hand in the some 13,000 entitlements that they’re not currently using and just saving up for a rainy day? Absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

Pubs and clubs have been identified as money laundering hot spots. Picture: Gaye Gerard/NCA NewswirePubs and clubs have been identified as money laundering hot spots. Picture: Gaye Gerard/NCA Newswire

“They’re not using them. They should go hand them in good faith and let’s work on a plan to reduce them.”

In early February, the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government unveiled a detailed strategy to ensure that all poker machines are converted to cashless systems by December 31, 2028.

The coalition said it directly responded to the Crime Commission’s investigation into money laundering associated with electronic gaming machines.

“We address the number one recommendation from the Crime Commission, and we will end money laundering in pubs and clubs while protecting jobs and supporting communities,” Premier Dominic Perrottet said.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet. Picture: Gaye Gerard/NCA NewswireNSW Premier Dominic Perrottet. Picture: Gaye Gerard/NCA Newswire

“We will also ensure people using poker machines receive more support if they want it, to deal with problem gambling.”

The NSW Labor Party committed to decreasing the number of poker machines and introducing a mandatory trial of cashless gaming to at least 500 machines as a countermeasure against the proposed reforms by the Perrottet government.

“We’ve made clear that our comprehensive plan in relation to gambling is what we’re taking to the people of NSW,”

The Greens have proposed a pokies’ “super tax” which they estimate would generate an extra $3.4 billion in revenue over five years.

They also plan to create a Poker Machine Reparations fund to invest in communities affected by gambling. And they want to introduce a mandatory state-run cashless gambling card with harm-reduction measures while aiming for a complete pokies phase-out in pubs and clubs over five to 10 years.

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“Gambling is out of control in NSW,” Greens MP and gambling harm reduction spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann said.

“Our state has nearly half of all of Australia’s poker machines and loses more per person to gambling than anywhere else in the world.”

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