As the conversation surrounding poker machine reform and anti-money laundering (AML) enforcement continues to unfold in New South Wales (NSW), the recent “Regulating the Game: conference in Sydney provided a lot of details as to what has been on the minds of prominent figures throughout the state’s gaming industry.
For starters, gaming-related signage looks to be a hot-button issue for NSW regulators moving forward, especially for bars and clubs that feature gaming machines.
Essentially, state law bans venues with gaming machines from displaying any signage that uses terms or expressions that are “frequently associated with gambling,” but this has largely been circumvented by using more vague terms, with “VIP Lounge” being chief among them.
Jane Lin, executive director of regulatory operations and enforcement for Liquor and Gaming NSW (LGNSW), said that a recent impromptu compliance check revealed that more than three-quarters of the state’s bars and clubs featured “some sort of signage that might indicate the presence of gaming machines inside,” as reported by Inside Asian Gaming.
While Lin went on to clarify that each case would need to be investigated individually to ascertain whether or not each was in violation of signage laws, she reiterated that the overall point of the exercise was to indicate to venues that “we are starting to look more closely at this.”
In response to questions about the phrase “VIP Lounge” specifically, which has come to represent a euphemism for a gambling hall, Lin said that the language of the existing legislation will need to be looked at and perhaps updated, but not until after the upcoming state elections. Both major parties in the state have already pledged to update the laws.
However, per IAG, Lin added that “ we are going to continue with a multi-faceted compliance and enforcement approach which means watching people, physically being present in pubs and clubs to understand what’s going on. We don’t just go on with a clipboard and tick off whether you have the right signage, it’s about observing the behavior of the staff, it’s about understanding whether they seem to understand their obligations.”
Representatives from key trade bodies were also present, including Don Hammond, CEO of Leagues Club Australia.
On the topic of helping to curb AML violations in bars and clubs across the state, Hammond posited that his membership would like police to step in and issue bans to known money launderers, as is the case with casinos and racetracks.
“We already do it at racetracks and casinos,” said Hammond, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. “Clubs and pubs would be very happy if the criminals could be told not to go into licensed premises.”
The issue has been at the center of debate since the NSW Crime Commission released a scathing report late last year alleging that criminals were laundering and gambling billions of dollars of dirty money through poker machines each year in the state.
Hammond indicated at the conference that even the bars and clubs themselves were shocked to learn just how bad the issue had become. In its report, the commission did recommend that legislation be put in place to bolster venues’ right of refusing service.
Coincidentally, Tahli Blicblau, the commission’s director of strategic intelligence and capabilities, was also present—Blicblau indicated that the report came as a surprise to all involved, including authorities.
“Prior to the publication of our report, industry didn’t know and couldn’t be expected to know the extent of the criminal problem within their venues … because law enforcement officials didn’t even know,” she said, per the Herald.
However, according to Blicblau, there were also several instances of clear AML violations that should have been prevented, including examples of patrons playing large numbers of machines at once or requesting that certain machines be reserved so that more funds could be withdrawn.
As far as Hammond’s proposal, however, Blicblau seemed to be on board: “We’re more than happy to work with authorities,” she said, as reported by the Herald. “They know who the criminals are, so they can tell them they’ve been warned off licensed premises.”
Lastly, representatives from the financial watchdog agency AUSTRAC also revealed at the conference that it will create another specialist team dedicated solely to AML matters from bars and clubs, in addition to the first such team that was established in 2019 for casinos and bookmakers. The agency said this was in response to the growing level of concern being raised by the issues mentioned above.
Bradley Brown, AUSTRAC’s manager of regulatory operations, said that it’s “extremely true that we are going to continue to focus on the gambling sector into the future,” the Herald reported.
The agency also noted that it has formed new partnerships with the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as well as His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to help combat these issues.
The three sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), and will collaborate and share best practices moving forward.
AUSTRAC CEO Nicole Rose said, “The signing of these two MoUs cements Australia’s long standing commitment to working with valued partners, like FCA and HMRC, to drive behavioral change and uplift capability across industry to create a hostile financial environment for organized crime,” as reported by SBC News.