The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority’s centralised monitoring system, which records the activity of every machine in 15-minute intervals, has uncovered significant “suspicious activity”.
In one report – obtained by the Herald – for a single local government area over a 12-hour period on August 4 last year, there were repeated cases of player behaviour that points to money laundering.
In one instance, $1485.79 was put into a machine at 2pm, and the exact amount taken out three minutes later without a single bet being placed.
There were many similar examples, where at least $1000 was put into a machine, no or very few bets were placed, and then several minutes later the identical amount was taken out.
The scathing Bergin inquiry report into Crown Resorts found the casino giant “facilitated money laundering”, prompting the chair of the NSW gaming authority to say money laundering is also an issue plaguing clubs and pubs.
Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello, who has responsibility for gaming, will face budget estimates on Monday where he is likely to be pressed on the government’s gaming reforms in the wake of the Bergin report.
Poker machines are dispersed across 4000 venues in NSW, with only 1500 of the total 96,000 machines in the Star casino. Gaming machines can be used to assist the money laundering process where the origin of illegally obtained funds is concealed by a sequence of transfers or transactions.
Gambling researcher Charles Livingstone, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, said the patterns shown in the data indicated obvious money laundering.
“There is no doubt that money laundering is endemic in NSW because there are just so many machines and clubs and people can wander from club to club and get rid of a lot of money very quickly,” associate professor Livingstone said.
“Usually people place a couple of bets, so they don’t raise suspicion but that’s not always the case.”
The Bergin report into Crown Resorts said a proposed NSW government-issued gambling card would be a powerful tool to combat money laundering and organised crime.
Mr Dominello wants to introduce the card in a bid to take organised crime out of pubs and clubs and help problem gamblers.
However, the plan is causing a bitter division within the government, with Deputy Premier John Barilaro insisting that the Nationals would never support it.
Last month Mr Barilaro tweeted: “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to suggest more red tape for hospo [hospitality] sector by way of a gambling card, when it’s recovering from one of its toughest years. The Nationals will never support this.”
The clubs’ industry also strongly opposes the card, but is investigating a digital wallet, which would not be compulsory and would be operated by each venue. Hotels also oppose a gambling card.
ClubsNSW has submitted its proposal for a digital wallet trial to the government’s gaming machine technology working group.
Under its proposal, there could be personal spend limits, daily or weekly transaction limits and large payouts would be “quarantined”.
A spokesman for ClubsNSW said: “ClubsNSW does not support a system where public servants oversee people’s gambling activities, nor do we support a mandatory card-based approach to cashless gambling.
“There are a range of alternatives involving a gradual introduction of venue-based digital payments worth considering, as set out in our proposal,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman said ClubsNSW was not opposed to giving players and venues the choice to accept digital payments alongside cash.
“However, we see no reason why small bowling and golf clubs should be forced to adopt expensive technology that they cannot afford — nor do we see any reason why a person wanting to put $5 into a poker machine after bingo should be forced into registering for a government-issued card.”
Catch all the day’s breaking news
At the end of each day, we’ll send you the most important breaking news headlines, evening entertainment ideas and a long read to enjoy. Sign up here.
Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.