The NSW Labor Government is not serious about addressing the damage done to society by poker machines, says Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Tim Costello.
Last week, Region revealed residents in Wagga, Griffith and surrounding small towns lost more than $100 million on pokies over the 2022-23 financial year, according to data provided by the state’s gambling register.
Reverend Costello said these figures were “extraordinary” given the small population in the region and criticised the State Government for what he said was a lack of action on the issue.
“[Premier] Minns doesn’t want to reform pokies … Labor has five pokies venues, five in NSW, it’s too lucrative for them. They’re putting the party’s interest way before people’s interest.
“No other political party in the world runs pokies venues for their own electoral purposes other than NSW Labor.
“NSW has 35 per cent of all the world’s pokies in pubs and clubs. Those interests really own the Labor Party and it’s the number-one public health problem in NSW. When the Crime Commission says billions of dollars of dirty money are going through the pokies and this Government hasn’t acted, you’ve got to ask who has captured them?”
Region put these assertions to Premier Chris Minns and Gambling and Racing Minister David Harris’s offices for comment. They did not respond to the claims, but a spokesperson for Minister Harris provided the following statement: “The NSW Government is committed to gambling reform, reducing gambling harm and stopping money laundering and criminal activity associated with poker machines.
“The NSW Government has delivered on its commitment to establish an independent panel to oversee the expanded cashless gaming trial and to recommend an implementation roadmap for gaming reform in NSW.
“The purpose of the trial is to ensure any future rollout of cashless gaming in NSW is feasible and does not unduly impact industry, whilst also minimising gambling harm and money-laundering risks.
“The NSW Government has also invested a record $100 million in harm-minimisation initiatives, including funding for the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling to provide support to people affected by gambling harm through GambleAware services as well as working to prevent harm before it occurs by investing in education and awareness raising.”
Reverend Costello, the former CEO of aid organisation World Vision and brother of former treasurer Peter Costello, described these initiatives as “pure window-dressing”.
“We are seeing record pokies losses of over $8 billion for the first time in NSW,” he said. “Minns is saying, ‘Look over there, I did something’ and giving a wink and nudge to his own party and the industry.
“Labor needs to do the cashless gaming card. We’ve had 10 trials already in Australia, we know they work. He’s using the trial to kick it out to the long grass, hoping it’ll go away.”
Wagga MP Joe McGirr believes the Government is genuine in its desire for pokies reform, but wants to see it pick up the pace.
“The Government set up this panel, they appointed commissioners, but their timeline has slipped,” Dr McGirr said.
“They were going to start their trial in July. Myself and the other independents have sought an update from the Government.
”We want to support the Government to get it right, even if it takes a bit of time, but we don’t want to see any dawdling. We have to get on with it, that’s what the community expect.”
Residents in Wagga and nearby towns lost more than $60m to pokies last financial year, while those who live in Griffith and surrounds lost just under $40m.
Yvonne Wilson, who works to support Griffith’s homeless people, said she often encountered clients who struggled with gaming machines.
“It’s an addiction for a lot of people. They chase the pretty lights, but what they put in is not what they get out,” she said. “It means that their money doesn’t go to paying rent and buying food for their family, so they need assistance for those things.
“It’s amazing, unbelievable, that a town the size of Griffith is losing that much to pokies.”