About 96,000 poker machines are distributed across 4000 venues in NSW, including 1500 machines at the Star casino in Sydney. The statewide increase in profits in 2020 occurred despite curbs on trading in pubs and clubs during COVID-19 restrictions.
NSW Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello is pushing to introduce a gambling card to help problem gamblers while also curtailing money laundering. Under the proposal, poker machines would become cashless and gamblers required to register and pre-load money to the card.
Troy Stolz, a former ClubsNSW anti-money laundering compliance auditor turned whistleblower, said illicit funds were a “massive” driver of poker machine turnover.
“All they are doing is cleaning the drug money so they can circulate it in the economy without being pulled up,” he said.
Mr Stolz said it was difficult to know how much of the money going through machines was illicit because venues were turning a blind eye and not meeting their responsibilities to monitor and measure the turnover.
NSW poker machines are particularly attractive to criminals because of the high load-up limit, which is significantly larger than other states.
Poker machines can be used to wash money by depositing the illicit funds and, after a short period of gambling, withdrawing the balance along with a legitimate record of the transaction.
In its recently released annual report, the NSW Crime Commission said the closure of casinos, pubs and clubs in the early months of 2020 curtailed opportunities for money laundering, causing large amounts of money to be stockpiled.
Predicting a resurgence in the movement of illegal funds in the post-pandemic recovery, the commission warned of risks for Australia as a result of its economic attractiveness.
“It is possible that Australia will be perceived as a safe haven for the legal and illegal transfer of international funds following the way it is handling its COVID-19 response,” the commission concluded.
“A similar observation was made following the global financial crisis several years ago, which saw a large volume of international funds flow into Australia because of the way that it had avoided the crisis.”
The commission warned that distinguishing illegal funds from legitimate investment in Australia would be a “significant challenge” for law enforcement agencies.
The US State Department has previously pointed to Australia as a major money laundering country, listed as a “jurisdiction of primary concern”.
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Fergus Hunter is a crime reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.