Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery 'supportive' of pre-loaded poker machine cards mooted by the NSW government as part of potential gaming reforms

POTENTIAL CHANGES: Under potential reforms being considered by the NSW government, poker machine players would have to use a pre-loaded card.
POTENTIAL CHANGES: Under potential reforms being considered by the NSW government, poker machine players would have to use a pre-loaded card.

WALLSEND MP Sonia Hornery has offered in-principle support for cashless poker machines and harm-minimisation measures the NSW government is considering as part of gaming reforms, but does not want pubs and clubs "borne" with the cost of implementing changes.

Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello recently mooted a transition to cashless pokies after the government released the draft Gaming Machines Amendment (Gambling Harm Minimisation) Bill 2020 for public consultation late last month.

The draft legislation proposes a range of harm-minimisation measures, including improved self-exclusion systems, new exclusion methods and forcing venues to enhance management and intervention practices.

But under measures touted by the minister, punters would be forced to register for a government-issued gambling card that they would pre-load money on to.

The cards would operate like the cashless Opal cards used on public transport and would be overseen by the Privacy Commissioner.

Mr Dominello said NSW had become known as the "poker machine capital of Australia" and the state government had to pursue "technological" solutions to help problem gamblers that are "destroying" their lives.

There are 95,000 electronic gaming machines in NSW, including 8511 in pubs and clubs across the Hunter's nine local government areas. There are close to 3000 in the Newcastle LGA, although these numbers have fallen.

The state's most recent gaming data not affected by the coronavirus shutdowns shows, in the year to the end of November 2019, Hunter pubs and clubs made $422.9 million in gaming machine profits, about $1.15 million per day. Turnover was about nine times this amount.

Ms Hornery, whose Wallsend electorate has a number of socio-economic areas which research suggests are at a higher risk for problem gambling, said she did not "have an issue" about a move to cashless machines if it was "done the right way".

"My main concern about cashless machines is the potential sense of loss of losing real money that people may experience [and] gamblers would be able to load up a card with money from a credit card," she said.

"I also have concerns about potential ways problems gamblers could get around having their card shut down, by using a friend's card or that of a family member.

"If using an Opal card-type system means ensuring problem gamblers would be restricted from using machines then I am supportive of the idea as long as it has strict security measures."

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said he supported of aspects of the bill, particularly the introduction of a third-party exclusion scheme that would allow family members to ask pubs and clubs to ban someone whose gambling is harmful.

Mr Crakanthorp said he was "very interested to learn more" about cashless poker machines if the government decided to move that way.

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said it was "essential" there were reforms across the gambling industry.

"Cashless poker machines or cards with pre-determined limits will go some way towards helping problem gamblers, but the reforms need to be much broader than just poker machines," he said.

"I have significant concern about the growth of the sports betting industry and in particular the way in which young males are being targeted in their relentless marketing and advertising.

"We are watching the next generation of problem gamblers appear before our eyes so it's absolutely essential we get ahead of it before the problem gets worse."

A ClubsNSW spokeswoman said much of the draft legislation was put forward by the industry, including "allowing family intervention and creating responsible gambling ambassadors".

"However, the timing and the impact of the proposed changes have created anxiety among clubs," she said.

"Too many clubs are reeling from the effects of COVID-19, so now is not the right time to be placing heavy compliance burdens and associated costs on venues."

Ms Hornery said the the potential cost implications for venues was "concerning".

"The government needs to ensure that any costs that are borne from the system are not left to clubs to fund," she said.