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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The latest casino scandal is just another sideshow

The latest casino scandal is just another sideshow

Another casino, another official investigation, more allegations of money laundering, organised crime links and fraud.

At a casino? Gee, who would have guessed?

And, again, Star is just a headline-grabbing sideshow to the real story that is too big for the New South Wales government to think of tackling.

Quick demonstration: Star’s total gaming revenue (revenue, not profit) from its three casinos in Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast was $1.071 billion in its latest year.

The gaming machine net profit for NSW’s pubs and clubs last year was $5.386 billion. That sort of money buys a lot of influence.

Neither Star, or the Crown organisation before it, owns NSW politics. The state’s real gambling powerhouse, the one that dwarfs the official casinos, does.

Raw power in action

If you want to see raw political power in action, watch ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association.

Liberal, Labor, National – it doesn’t matter. They are owned. The Fishers and Shooters spout the company line, too.

Only the odd partnership of Mark Latham’s One Nation and the NSW Greens seem above the gaming machine lobby. They are too small a minority to matter.

The obvious thing about laundering money is cash.

Two years ago, Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello suggested making gaming machines cashless. Playing the pokies would require a digital gaming card.

Goodbye easy money laundering, as well as sucking the cash out of mug punters’ pockets.

Clubs NSW

Dr George Peponis OAM was elected as Chairman of the ClubsNSW Board after Peter Newell resigned his position in June 2019. He previously served as a Director of the Canterbury League Club and is a Life Member of both the Bulldogs Football Club and the registered club. He has been Chairman of the NSW Rugby League since 2012.

ClubsNSW did not like that idea, suggesting “opt-in digital payments” instead. Or maybe punters and money launderers could – voluntarily – wear polka-dot underwear while pouring the money into the machines. It would be as useful.

No, ClubsNSW is not serious about either problem gamblers or money laundering. Neither is the hotel lobby.

It wasn’t long before Victor Dominello no longer had responsibility for the issue. That idea of cashless gaming machines is fading away.

It won’t happen because the most powerful political lobby in the country doesn’t want it to happen. A change of government won’t make any difference.

We’ve seen this show before. In 2010, Julia Gillard gave Andrew Wilkie a written promise to deliver genuine gambling reform, specifically mandatory pre-commitment on high-intensity machines in line with a Productivity Commission recommendation.

Having received Mr Wilkie’s support for her minority government when she needed it – and subsequently gaining an extra vote by installing Peter Slipper as Speaker – she broke that promise.

In trying to defend breaking her word, Ms Gillard said her deal with Mr Wilkie was no longer “a real world” option. Well, that’s true – the real world of Australian politics is owned by the gaming machine lobby.

Labor MPs in marginal seats had been targeted by Clubs Australia, using the usual PR rubbish about jobs numbers and the token amounts the industry tosses community organisations as justification for fleecing problem gamblers and facilitating money laundering.

Pokies, and the damage done

The reality is that, for all the self-serving nonsense about “community”, the clubs industry is a very large self-perpetuating machine where executives are richly rewarded and boards flattered in their sinecures.

Clubs – and local pubs – that gave a toss about “community” wouldn’t continue to suck the blood out of mug patrons, accessories before the fact for the destitution, despair and family violence that follows problem gamblers. And, often enough, accessories after the act as well when addicts defraud and rob to feed the machines.

No, the subsidised lunch on pension day doesn’t make up for the damage caused.

From my comfortable armchair, I wonder what it must be like to go into politics, to work hard, long hours and quietly know that, for all your efforts, you and your political party are owned by parasites, that you dare not try to break free of their control over policies that do genuine, obvious harm, that you are not actually allowed by the numbers men and women to work in the best interests of the community.

And it’s not just politicians (and the party machines behind them) who know to tread carefully. The lobby is a powerful and very rich enemy for any individual to make.

“This is a most unusual process,” Mark Davis, the Xenophon Davis lawyer acting for Troy Stolz and Jordan Shanks-Markovina, told Independent Australia.

“This is not the court itself or the state prosecutor charging Troy and Jordan with contempt, it’s ClubsNSW, a private entity, which is bringing this action.

“They effectively become the prosecutor in a criminal prosecution.”

A Sydney Morning Herald column on Monday reasonably asked if the public might wonder if casinos are bulletproof, given Crown eventually opened its Sydney casino and Star is expected to go through a similar ritual of staff changes before carrying on despite what inquiries discovered about each of them.

Well, they are fair-sized businesses that pay the states that theoretically control them a fair bit of tax. Fair-sized businesses have political weight.

The much larger clubs’n’pubs industry has much more political weight. State treasurers are even more addicted to the taxes they collect, but it is mainly the political power, not the taxes, that controls the parties – Liberal, Labor, National. Same same.

Tuesday’s report on Star Casino has made this column mainly about NSW, but it applies in every jurisdiction, bar Western Australia. Same same.

We reported last month that the Northern Territory, home of Australia’s worst problem gambling among other social problems, is considering allowing yet more gaming machines in Alice Springs.

Given the track record of bigger, richer administrations, why should the NT be any different? Same same.

How do you feel, being owned?

Michael Pascoe writes in The NewDaily. This article was first published in the NewDaily

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