Australia's biggest state unveils plan for cashless poker machines

FILE PHOTO: A person gambles on a poker machine at a pub in Sydney, Australia, September 19, 2022. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The leader of Australia's most populous state on Monday unveiled a plan to make all poker machines cashless within five years to fight money laundering and problem gambling, setting up a political battle ahead of a state election next month.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said his government would make every poker machine cashless by 2028 and offer interest-free loans for pubs and clubs to buy new cashless gambling machines that would only allow players to bet from a bank account.

The NSW poker machine industry has amassed the most "pokies", as they are called in Australia, of any jurisdiction outside Nevada and the state's powerful pubs and clubs lobby has significant influence over political leaders.

Perrottet said his proposal "solves problem gambling, solves money laundering, protects jobs and industries". He said he had been uncomfortable in his previous role as state treasurer "profiting off other people's misery" by collecting poker machine taxes.

Australia, with a population of 25 million, has about one-fifth of the world's 1 million legal poker machines, according to think tank the Australia Institute. Half of Austalia's poker machines are in NSW.

The gambling industry's influence over NSW politics has been in the spotlight since a series of inquiries starting in 2020 found widespread instances of casino operators failing to stop money laundering and problem gambling.

The government said its proposals would mean a person could set a limit on how much they could spend on a poker machine, and could only gamble money from a bank account, making it harder for criminals to use the machines to launder money.

The centre-left Labor state opposition has stopped short of calling for mandatory cashless poker machines, saying only that it would support a limited trial of the measure.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Lewis Jackson; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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