Pokies are massively popular in New South Wales, where their number (91,000) is only surpassed by the American state of Nevada. In 2019, profits in NSW pubs and clubs surged to over $6.5 billion, which is more than the GDP of Fiji.

Despite this success, the government is working hard to fight addiction and others negatives associated with legal gambling. Since June of 2017, more than 1,350 pokies have been removed from venues. And now, the state looks poised to take additional actions that are sure to please anti-gambling advocates.

Cashless Poker Machines

According to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW government is proposing a series of gambling reforms. If they pass, these reforms will require gamblers to register in order to receive a government-issued card.

The purpose of this card? Well, it’s meant to replace cash at pubs and clubs. Money is loaded onto the card, and it’s deducted as the player tries their luck on the pokies. It’s similar in function to the Opal card, which is accepted on public transport services across NSW.

In addition, the card would be linked to the NSW exclusion register. If the holder was one of the state’s thousands of self-excluded punters, then they would be unable to use it.

Previous Legislation

Last week, senior cabinet minister Victor Dominello unveiled a draft of harm minimization for the public. There was no mention of a gambling card, but it did suggest using facial recognition technology to identify problem gamblers.

Mr. Dominello has gathered crossbench support to make sure that any new legislation can pass. This includes both the Greens and Mark Latham of One Nation.

Victor Dominello NSW

He also added that NSW held the title of “poker machine capital of Australia.” And considering that the industry is worth $6 billion, he’s determined to bring it into the modern age.

An Unexpected Surprise

Then, on Saturday, the NSW government made the proposal regarding cashless pokies. According to a spokeswoman for ClubsNSW, it “appears to have caught everyone by surprise.”

At the moment, the government is waiting for additional information on how the card would work. They’re specifically interested in safeguards to avoid any unforeseen negative consequences.

Reactions to the Proposal

While gambling clubs were blindsided by the proposal, their public reactions have been measured.

A spokeswoman for ClubsNSW said, “ClubsNSW looks forward to the opportunity to engage with the NSW government in a construction and respectful manner.”

Meanwhile, a representative of Pyrmont’s Star Casino said the organization looks “forward to engaging with government on the details of what has been mentioned.”

While they’ve been respectful in their replies, the NSW gaming industry is likely to fight any changes. They have already criticized the harm minimization legislation, complaining that implementing facial recognition would cost millions. Since the cashless system would require replacing or modifying every pokie in the state, I expect the resistance to be fierce.

Meanwhile, some were quite pleased with the proposal. Tim Costello, chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said the NSW government “seems to have finally recognized the immense damage poker machines do in the state.”

An Influx of Punters

If cashless poker machines come to NSW, the timing couldn’t be better. There’s been a major influx of punters in gambling establishments, and many of them are coming from across the border.

Due to the coronavirus, clubs in the Australian Capital Territory remain closed as a precaution. However, punters from Canberra and others location are simply driving into NSW.

In August, a newspaper article stated that 40% of patrons in NSW border clubs were coming from NSW. In Queanbeyan, almost half the recent customers in pubs and clubs have journeyed from Canberra. Current safety measures require club patrons to sign in, so it’s easy to keep track of where they come from.

According to Jeremy Wyatt, Queanbeyan Leagues Club general manager, “Our trade has been up since reopening when compared to pre COVID-19 restrictions, we think largely due to the increase in patronage from the ACT.”

Additional Reading

For more news on gambling in Australia and abroad, take a look at the following: