State Government Versus the Powerful Club Industry Lobby Group

March 14, 2023 | Gaming Machines

SYDNEY, NSW, Australia (March 13, 2023) — According to local media reports a senior New South Wales Liberal minister has spoken for the first time about how a powerful Australian gambling lobby group forced him out of the portfolio and has called for an investigation into its influence over the government.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported that in an interview with the ABC’s Four Corners, Victor Dominello accused the club industry lobby group, ClubsNSW, of being “the equivalent of the gun lobby in the United States“.

There’s just no mistake about that. Our blind spot is poker machines and they’re extraordinarily powerful,” he said.

Asked if he believed there should be an inquiry into the influence of the lobby group over governments, Mr Dominello, who is retiring from politics, said he did and called on whoever took power after this month’s NSW election to act.

[There should be] an inquiry or some other examination to make sure that MPs are not cowed into moving a certain way because of this powerful industry,” he said.

For the sake of our democracy, I really believe that this is an issue that the next term of government should address.

Mr Dominello spoke to Four Corners as part of an investigation into the power and influence of ClubsNSW, the not-for-profit lobby group for more than 1,000 registered clubs across the state, which collectively own and operate more than 64,000 poker machines.

The industry, which has defeated previous attempts at gambling reform, is facing its greatest test yet at the NSW election.

The introduction of mandatory cashless gambling for poker machines is a central election issue.

Poker machine reform activists believe the outcome could determine the fate of gambling reform nationally and even internationally.

Mr Dominello was the NSW minister with responsibility for gambling policy when he floated the introduction of a mandatory cashless gambling card for all poker machines in the state in 2020.

The reform, which would force all poker machine users to nominate how much they were prepared to lose, was aimed at addressing problem gambling.

It was strongly opposed by ClubsNSW, which has claimed the reform would cost 9,000 jobs and devastate clubs by slashing their revenue by up to 30 per cent.

The clubs’ message found a receptive audience in Mr Dominello’s Coalition colleagues, the National Party, who feared the reforms would damage clubs in their rural heartlands.

When Premier Dominic Perrottet reshuffled his cabinet in December 2021, he stripped Mr Dominello of the gaming portfolio. It was handed to the Nationals.

In a statement, Mr Perrottet said ClubsNSW’s lobbying had no influence on his decision to remove Mr Dominello from the portfolio.

According to the ABC, there are few better examples of the hold ClubsNSW has had over governments than the succession of “agreements” it has struck before elections over the past decade.

The documents – formally known as Memoranda of Understanding — bind incoming Coalition governments to detailed pledges about the regulatory environment that clubs will operate in over the ensuing four years, including no new increases to poker machine tax rates.

These agreements were signed by the then-opposition leader in 2010, his successor in 2014, and the incoming premier in 2018.

Transparency International Australia chief executive Clancy Moore described the documents as “highly unusual”.

ClubsNSW said in a statement: “The MOUs signed between ClubsNSW and the New South Wales Coalition provided public transparency prior to elections, as well as regulatory certainty for an industry that employs more than 53,000 people and provides services for millions of members and the communities in which they operate.

“It is the same approach to government engagement that is taken by hundreds of peak bodies and businesses on a daily basis.”

Last October, the New South Wales Crime Commission found that billions of dollars in the proceeds of crime were put through poker machines in NSW.

It recommended the introduction of a mandatory cashless gambling system.

Premier Dominic Perrottet has embraced Crime Commission’s recommendation, promising to introduce mandatory cashless gambling for all poker machines in the state to combat money laundering and problem gambling.

Labor leader Chris Minns has opted for a trial of 500 machines overseen by an expert panel.

This is a way to ensure that we can get an evidence-based process in place for the panel to look at and provide recommendations to the government,” he has said.

For the first time in more than a decade, neither major party leader has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ClubsNSW.

ClubsNSW said it “looks forward to working constructively with whoever forms government after the election on sensible, evidence-based reform measures“.

Read ClubsNSW’s full statement to Four Corners

SOURCE: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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