New South Wales pubs and clubs will be given five years to introduce cashless gaming systems across all poker machines and gamblers will be able to set their own gambling limits, under a $344m plan developed by the state government.
The state’s premier, Dominic Perrottet, on Sunday night secured cabinet support for his reform package after months of public debate and major pushback from some of his Coalition colleagues.
“It will save lives. It will protect jobs and ensure that our communities across NSW are stronger now and into the future,” he said on Monday.
An independent taskforce would oversee the transition to universal cashless gaming between 2024 and 2028.
The self-imposed spending limits could be changed up to once a week under the changes. This is likely to be criticised by advocates, who had wanted the reforms to go further.
Perrottet defended the move, saying it was part of a “suite of measures” and supported by experts.
“What I hear from harm minimisation experts is [that] the biggest issue is being in front of a pokie machine with a different intention than what you walked in with,” he said.
The reform implementation team will consider daily limits. No personal data will be collected or retained by the government or pubs and clubs.
Players will be linked to a single bank account, interim $500 cash feed-in limits will be implemented and a statewide self-exclusion register will be created.
Regional pubs and clubs will receive financial assistance to make up for losses in revenue including one-off grants to invest in other sources of income including live music or food.
Venues will also be provided zero-interest loans to pay for changing their systems.
Perrottet will announce the plan at a press conference on Monday, with plans to legislate towards the middle of the year if the Coalition is returned to power.
He began pushing for reforms off the back of a damning NSW Crime Commission report last year that found widespread laundering through poker machines across the state. The commission recommended a cashless system.
The powerful independent Sydney MP, Alex Greenwich, said the push to clean up gambling needed to be supported across party lines. “Now is the moment,” he said on Monday morning.
“NSW is going towards cashless gaming to stamp out money laundering and cashless gaming harm. I am looking forward to the full release from the government, and hope the opposition will join this multi-partisan push for reform.”
NSW Labor has agreed to a trial of cashless systems across 500 of the state’s 90,000 machines if elected, but stopped short of supporting a universal rollout.
The state’s clubs lobby expressed concern about the costs, challenges and impacts associated with introducing the cashless gaming policy.
“We’re particularly concerned about the implications for small, regional clubs and the impact this will have on jobs across the industry,” a spokesperson for ClubsNSW said.
The body said it was committed to working with the government after the March election to “combat problem gambling and keep criminals out of gaming venues”.
Last week the chief executive of ClubsNSW, Josh Landis, was fired by the board after saying Perrottet’s quest for reform was being guided by his “conservative Catholic gut”.
It came after the lobby group released a new code of conduct for venues that Landis at the time said would serve as sufficient reforms for the sector as he continued to fight against the introduction of mandatory cashless gaming cards.
The plan was dismissed by experts and gambling reform advocates as doing too little and doing so too late.
Former state liquor and gaming minister, now customer service minister, Victor Dominello, on Monday said cashless gaming was the “key to transforming the poker machine industry for the better”.
“Cashless gaming reforms put public interest ahead of vested interests – and have come notwithstanding significant and sustained opposition from the gambling lobby,” he said.
The NSW state election is on 25 March.