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NSW forms independent panel to oversee gambling reform

| By Robert Fletcher
The New South Wales (NSW) government has established an independent panel to oversee gambling reform in the Australian state.
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Chaired by former NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing commissioner Michael Foggo, the panel will feature 16 members. 

Four industry representatives will sit on the new panel, alongside four harm minimisation representatives and two academics. Other members include one representative each for Cyber Security NSW, the NSW police and the United Workers Union.

Labor senator Ursula Stephens and former member of the legislative council Niall Blair will serve as independent executive committee members.

The panel will be tasked with overseeing a planned cashless gaming trial and recommend an implementation roadmap for gaming reforms. This will include seeking input from external sources such as the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac).

Cashless trial for EGMs

Beginning with the cashless trial for electronic gaming machines (EGMs), the panel will establish, implement, evaluate and review this process.  

The panel will develop recommendations for the government to consider over the possible introduction of cashless gaming in hotels and clubs. This will include consideration for infrastructure investment, employment impact and further reducing gambling harm.

In addition, the panel will produce a gambling reform implementation roadmap for the government. This will include making recommendations on making use of a AU$100m (£52.4m/€612m/US$68.7m) harm minimisation fund.

Other recommendations will cover expanding the self-exclusion register to the whole state and providing for third-party exclusions, as well as using facial recognition technology to support exclusion schemes.

The panel will be required to submit a report to the government by November 2024.

“We know the harmful effects of problem gaming on families, and I want to make sure we stamp out criminal activity in clubs,” NSW premier, Chris Minns, said. “This panel is an important next step.

“The panel has a big job to do but we have the balance right to ensure we have an evidence-based roadmap for future gaming reforms.”

Chair Foggo added: “Harmful gambling not only impacts individuals but also their loved ones and the broader community, which is why it is so important that we work together to reduce gambling harm.

“I want to make sure we get the balance right and consider all relevant factors so that any future reforms, implemented by government, work.

“We will get straight to work and will meet in the coming weeks to confirm the framework of the cashless gaming trial. We will recommend an appropriate mix of venues for the trial to the government.”

Wider reforms in NSW

Meanwhile, the government said it will also undertake a review of the ClubGRANTS scheme. This will be conducted by Liquor & Gaming NSW in consultation with NSW treasury and the cabinet office. This will be separate to, but run concurrently with, the panel’s work. 

ClubGRANTS, which provides grants to a variety of causes across NSW, has not been formally reviewed since 2013.

The announcement builds on a number of other reforms already set out by the government. These are all aimed at curbing gambling harm and tackling criminal activity in clubs and pubs.

Other measures put forward in recent months include a ban on external signage for gaming rooms across NSW. Announced in May, the ban will come into effect from 1 September.

Venues that can demonstrate delays in removing signage outside of their control will have an additional three months to comply with the rules. However, once this period has ended, the government will adopt a zero-tolerance approach.

Names such as VIP Room/Lounge, Golden Room/Lounge, Players’ Room/Lounge and Prosperity Room/Lounge will be among names banned. In addition, images of dragons, coins or lightning motifs will be covered by the ban.

The government is also lowering the cap for poker machine entitlements by over 3,000. In addition, the cash input limit on new machines is being cut from $5,000 to $500.

Meanwhile, the government already passed legislation to ban political donations from clubs with pokies machines in NSW.

Last month, new research flagged concerns over links between late-night gaming on poker and problem gambling.

The report found that people with gambling problems represented the majority of late-night poker machine players. It also flagged how two-thirds of people playing between 2am and 8am experienced “significant” negative consequences.

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority said it would use the research to guide future decisions on rules and regulations for late-night play.

Further action

Other measures mooted in recent months include a rise in land-based casino tax. Set out by the state’s previous government, the new administration said it would follow up with these plans after the parliamentary winter recess.

The original proposal included the non-rebated duty rate rising from 17.91% to 20.25% and rebate duty rate increasing from 10.00% to 12.50%. 

In addition, poker machine duty rate would switch from a flat 20.91% rate to a tiered system. This ranged from a 0% rate on machines making under AU$2,666 a month, up to 60.67% for machines with over $12,000 monthly revenue.

At the time, the existing government said this could raise an additional AU$364.0m over the period from 2023-24 to 2025-26.

The NSW government also repeated calls for operators to ensure adverts include responsible gambling messages. Two undisclosed brands were flagged for non-compliance in June.

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