NSW Pokies Cause Concern For Crime Commission

pokie machines in a dark casino environment

Photo by Nathana Rebouças
The Australian economy could become a place for ill-gotten money, a New South Wales government body fears.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the NSW Crime Commission fears Australia’s management of the COVID-19 crisis could lead to it becoming a place for international criminals to launder money.

The commission’s concerns emerged as new figures show the state’s poker machine profits in the final months of 2020 were up on the year before, fuelling concerns about the widespread exploration of the machines as a money laundering avenue for criminals.

Figures from Liquor and Gaming NSW for November and December show gaming machine profits were $582.7 million and $629.6 million over the two months, increases of 1.8 per cent and 6.5 per cent in the same period in 2019.

Between July and December, total gaming machine profits were $4.4 billion, up from $4 billion in the last six months of 2019.

About 96,000 poker machines are distributed across 4000 venues in New South Wales, including 1500 machines at the Star casino in Sydney.

The statewide increase in profits in 2020 occurred despite curbs on trading in pubs and clubs during COVID-19 restrictions.

Cashless Gambling Push by the NSW Government
man holding a credit card making a payment on a computer

Photo Credit
NSW Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello is pushing to introduce a gambling card to help problem gamblers while also curtailing money laundering.

Under the proposal, poker machines would become cashless and gamblers required to register and pre-load money to the card.

Troy Stolz, a former Clubs NSW anti-money laundering compliance auditor turned whistleblower, said illicit funds were a “massive” driver of poker machine turnover.

“All they are doing is cleaning the drug money so they can circulate it in the economy without being pulled up,” he said.

Mr Stolz said it was difficult to know how much of the money going through machines was illicit because venues were turning a blind eye and not meeting their responsibilities to monitor and measure the turnover.

NSW poker machines are particularly attractive to criminals because of the high load-up limit, which is significantly larger than other states.

Poker machines can be used to wash money by depositing the illicit funds and after a short period of gambling, withdrawing the balance along with a legitimate record of the transaction.

In its recently released annual report, the NSW Crime Commission said the closure of casinos, pubs and clubs in the early months of 2020 curtailed opportunities for money laundering, causing large amounts of money to be stockpiled.

Predicting a resurgence in the movement of illegal funds in the post-pandemic recovery, the commission warned of risks for Australia as a result of its economic attractiveness.

“It is possible that Australia will be perceived as a safe haven for the legal and illegal transfer of international funds following the way it handled its COVID-19 response,” the commission concluded.

“A similar observation was made following the global financial crisis several years ago, which saw a large volume of international funds flow into Australia because of the way that it had avoided the crisis.”

The commission warned that distinguishing illegal funds from legitimate investment in Australia would be a “significant challenge” for law enforcement agencies.

The US State Department has previously pointed to Australia as a major money laundering country, listed as a “jurisdiction of primary concern.”

William Brown

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