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$1.5m lost to NSW pokies every day in April

More than $2.2 billion was lost to pokies in NSW pubs and clubs in the first four months of the year, prompting gambling reform advocates to call for an acceleration of cashless gambling trials.

Almost $600 million was collected by poker machines in April alone, up 12.58 per cent on April 2019, ahead of the first “digital wallet” program to be trialled at a venue in August.

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

It is the first proposal received by the NSW government as it explores cashless gaming solutions to target problem gambling and money laundering in venues.

The latest 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.

Kate da Costa, the NSW spokeswoman for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said the figures reflected a “predictable rebound” in pokies use, one year after the pandemic began and one month after JobKeeper ended.

“We know gambling of any form, particularly in poker machines, is an activity people turn to when stressed,” she said.

“A digital payment system that has harm-minimisation measures, like enforced breaks in play and spending limits puts friction into the system, which is shown to be effective”.

Ms da Costa said close monitoring of the upcoming trial was critical and called for more venues to participate in similar programs.

Customers participating in the Newcastle trial will need to supply 100 points of identification and an Australian bank account. Money and session time limits, information and real-time messaging to customers and marshals will also be applied.

Minister for Digital and Customer Service Victor Dominello said the trial highlighted the growing push for cashless gambling, which gained momentum after the release of the Bergin report into Crown Resorts and subsequent state royal commissions.

The 18-month inquiry found the casino giant “facilitated money laundering” and prompted the chair of the NSW gaming authority to call out money laundering as an issue plaguing pubs and clubs.

“We’re still yet to see the outcome of the royal commissions in Victoria and WA, but what we are seeing in NSW is industry leaders stepping up to embrace cashless gaming solutions,” Mr Dominello said.

Chief executive officer of Wests Group Australia Philip Gardiner said the Newcastle trial would seek to capture around 500 members.

He said digital spending was widespread across the group’s five venues, with card transactions in non-gaming spending (food, beverage, gyms) increasing from 20 per cent to more than 70 per cent in the past 18 months.

Kate Fennessy, the clinical lead of the gambling treatment program at St Vincent’s Hospital, said any digital solution must feature greater enforcement of the self exclusion register, which she says has largely failed struggling addicts.

“Most gamblers tell you they have been let down by the safety net. The register has really been useless to date,” Dr Fennessy said.

A Clubs NSW spokesman said gaming machine revenue in clubs alone was up 7 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, which was below the 10 per cent growth in retail trade sales.

“Given inflation and substantial losses during COVID, this is an unsurprising result.” He said Clubs NSW would await the results of the upcoming trial.