Open letter from faith leaders to the NSW Parliament

26 October 2020

Dear Members of the NSW Parliament,

We share a commitment to the wellbeing of everyone in New South Wales. During this difficult time of pandemic, as friends and family meet and re-connect, we all want to be safe, not just from COVID-19, but from the terrible damage caused by poker machine gambling and associated criminal activity.

When the machines were turned off, people in NSW saved $1.2 billion. For thousands of residents and their families, having a break from gambling was a genuine silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud of coronavirus.

When the 90,000 machines were turned back on in June, losses in the first week were almost a million dollars a day higher than June last year. We’re back to $18 million being lost to the machines, every day. The losses are so much more than financial. The distress can fuel family violence, homelessness and people taking their own lives.

But our concern goes beyond trying to minimise harm to gamblers and their families and extends to wider issues.

For example, in the recent inquiry into Crown Casino the Honourable Patricia Bergin SC has shone a light on the links between gambling and money laundering, In many ways, money laundering is the face of heinous crimes such as human trafficking, distribution of drugs, such as ice, and a range other activities by organised crime.

We write to you as a matter of urgency as the NSW Government is seeking public feedback on the proposed ‘Gaming Machines Amendment (Gambling Harm Minimisation) Bill 2020’, which would update the current Gaming Machines Act 2001. While this Bill would go some way to reducing the damage caused by gambling, it goes nowhere far enough. It is vital that the Parliament seize this opportunity to include the introduction of a cashless gambling card which would turn the Bill into an historic reform.

A cashless system will empower people to monitor their gambling, set a limit on how much they are prepared to lose, and exclude themselves from all poker machine gambling if they want to. Furthermore, it would prevent the criminal activity of laundering money through poker machines.

The Bill has already attracted significant support. Predictably, the gambling industry will strenuously resist the removal of cash from poker machines, arguing that now is not the time to introduce such changes. As leaders of faith communities, we strenuously argue that it is always the right time to prevent money laundering, and especially to stop the exploitation of vulnerable people, to save families and to save lives.

We encourage you, in the best interests of your constituency, to support this bold reform which must include the removal of cash from gaming machines and an overhaul of the current sub-standard approach to harm minimisation. The people of NSW will be grateful for your support.

Yours faithfully