The figures are staggering – in Broken Hill over $7m sloshed through the region’s 272 pokies in five clubs in the first six months of this year alone, while gamblers in NSW lose more money per person annually than anywhere else in the world.
It’s against this backdrop the NSW Parliament has been debating the merits of the so-called cashless gambling card.
Cashless gambling cards are effectively prepaid cards that punters would use to play pokies. The card would be connected to a person’s identity and a player can load it with cash to use on pokies.
The card can serve both as a way to identify players and a way to track spending by the player. Pokies would be required to take these cards and players would not be able to use cash or other forms of currency to play.
As a nation we lose approximately $25 billion every year to gambling and the issue – or problem as many see it – is at its worst in New South Wales where gamblers lose on average $4500 per gambler per year. The average across Australia is $2500 per gambler in losses annually.
In research obtained by the Barrier Truth through Wesley Mission, we can reveal Broken Hill lost $7,356,987 through 272 pokies in five clubs in the first half of this year, A further $475,737 was lost through 22 pokies in four hotels in Broken Hill.
There is one pokie machine for every 60 people who call the Silver City home and those loses we’ve mentioned equate to just over $400 put into pokie machines locally in just the first six months of 2022 for every man, woman and child.
Those numbers are backed up by a study from Monash University in 2021, which found Broken Hill ranked highest among NSW local government areas in per person gambling losses.
The call for a cashless gambling card is partly driven by gambling loses but initially sprung out of a NSW Crime Commission report which found organised crime was money laundering through poker machines in some NSW pubs and clubs to the tune of almost $95 billion.
The report recommended the urgent introduction of a mandatory cashless gambling card to solve that issue.
President of Broken Hill’s Democratic Club, Shane Chapman, says, “nobody wants to see anyone lose their house, for example, to gambling. We much prefer people to gamble responsibly, as they say, rather than them gambling with food or bill money.
If there is a way of curbing that behaviour or stopping that, then that’s great.”
Mr Chapman threw his support behind the opt-in cashless card alternative. He highlighted the difficulties pubs and clubs encounter in trying to identify problem gamblers and he believes a system where people experiencing gambling harm can flag themselves is the best solution for all involved and allows people who don’t have an issue with their gambling the freedom to gamble as they see fit.
Of course the clubs make money on the pokies and Mr Chapman is keen to point out the Democratic Club invests as much as they can locally, to avoid any profits going to Sydney.
“We sponsor the four footy clubs, St. Joes soccer club, the Stingrays swim club. We easily spend it all and sometimes a little bit more to make sure the profits stay here and don’t go to Sydney.”
Although there is some bipartisan support for the cashless gambling card scheme across the major political parties, the sticking point is whether the card should be mandatory or opt in.
NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann – one of the most vocal proponents of the cashless gambling card – insists it should be made mandatory to help curb many of the issues that the Greens say are a direct result of the gaming industry.
“On the back of the inquiries into Crown and Star Casinos and now the Crime Commission report, the public support has never been higher for our political leaders to act on the poker machine scourge across NSW,” Ms Faehrmann says.
“We have a unique opportunity, right now, for all parties to stand united together against pressure from the industry and enact gambling reform that will significantly reduce gambling harm and improve the lives of so many people in NSW,” says Ms Faehrmann.
NSW Labour leader, Chris Minns, has stopped short of supporting a mandatory cashless card roll out in favour of an opt in trial.
He claims there is not enough data to suggest a cashless gambling card would be successful in curbing criminal enterprise, or the behaviours of people suffering from gambling harm.
“I have said repeatedly at conferences over the last few weeks that we are open to a trial, an expanded trial in relation to cashless gaming cards in New South Wales pubs and clubs, particularly in the city and the country.”
“I want to make it clear today that if the government at the end of the day is proposing a trial in New South Wales, that we would be open to that. Now that would be bipartisan support,” Mr Minns said.
“I don’t think that we should be dismissing what the ultimate economic impact would be for proposed changes,” he added.
Wesley Mission CEO and gambling reform advocate Stu Cameron is a staunch advocate for a mandatory cashless gambling card. He says the financial figures alone are enough to suggest reform is required, and he says when you add the pain poker machines can cause individuals, there is no question a policy change is required.
“In New South Wales, we have a disproportionate challenge with poker machines. It’s arguable that our government has the biggest addiction issue because of the near $2 billion in tax revenue the poker machines bring in. It is a huge challenge.”
He also acknowledged the tightrope regional centres like Broken Hill walk with pubs and clubs being such large supporters of regional communities.
“We think the over-reliance of poker machines in clubs in particular goes against the grain of what clubs are there for, which is to support and enhance communities.
“We are not arguing for prohibition. We are arguing for regulation to rein in the harm caused by pokie machines. Appropriate, proportionate harm minimisation like a cashless gaming card [is the best solution]” Mr Cameron told us.
Mr Cameron was also swift to reject the notion of an opt in system as opposed to a mandatory one. He cited trials in Victoria which had a negligible take up as proof an opt-in system just does not work.
“Any system that is going to have any sort of impact needs to be compulsory, independently overseen, and have harm minimisation built into it, along with identity linking.”
“We don’t make seatbelts optional in cars, we shouldn’t make harm minimisation policy for gambling optional either because of the havoc it can cause.”
If you or a loved one is experiencing harm from gambling, you can find support information on the GambleAware website. Simply scan the QR code below to receive immediate support.
Alternatively, you can speak to a counsellor 24 hours a day via the GambleAware Helpline on 1800 858 858. All counselling is confidential and free of charge and is available to both individuals and family members experiencing gambling harm.