A move to introduce cashless poker machines across NSW has been welcomed by anti-gambling advocates, despite concerns that gamblers using a pre-loaded card could lose the sense they were forking out “real” money.
The state government is proposing reforms that would require poker machine gamblers to register and pre-load money to a government-issued card, which would operate in a similar way to the cashless Opal cards for the public transport network.
The card would be linked to the state’s exclusion register to prevent it from being used by thousands of self-excluded gamblers.
The state’s clubs were surprised by the proposal on Saturday. However, the Alliance for Gambling Reform’s chief advocate, Tim Costello, said the scheme 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 harms.”
Senior cabinet minister Victor Dominello, who has responsibility for gambling, has crossbench support in the upper house for the proposed changes, including from the Greens and One Nation’s Mark Latham, to ensure the new laws can pass.
Mr Dominello last week released draft harm minimisation legislation for public consultation, which suggested facial recognition technology could be used to identify problem gamblers.
The gambling card was not included in the draft bill, but Mr Dominello has been consulting widely with his colleagues and MPs from all parties to shore up support for it.
A ClubsNSW spokeswoman said on Saturday the proposal for a cashless gambling scheme had not been mentioned in the draft legislation and “appears to have caught everyone by surprise”.
“ClubsNSW looks forward to the opportunity to engage with the NSW government in a constructive and respectful manner.”
A spokesman for The Star casino at Pyrmont said the organisation looked “forward to engaging with government on the detail of what has been mentioned”.
The NSW Australian Hotels Association declined to comment. Labor gaming spokeswoman Sophie Cotsis did not respond to requests for comment.
ClubsNSW and the hotels association have previously criticised the draft harm minimisation legislation, saying that measures such as facial recognition would cost the industry millions of dollars when it was already under additional pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Dominello said NSW had the unenviable title of the “poker machine capital of Australia” and he was determined to use technology to bring the $6 billion gaming machine industry into the 21st century.
Megan Gorrey is the Urban Affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.