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ABC News
ABC News
Paige Cockburn

Unions NSW splits from Labor on cashless gaming to stop 'scourge on society'

The top union leader in NSW has clashed with Labor over major gambling reform and urged the party to back the Coalition government's proposal for a cashless gaming card. 

Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey is backing the government's plan, which would stop gamers from using cash at any of the 90,000 pokie machines across the state and force them to upload money onto a gaming card.

The plan has drawn ire from the chief executive of the RSL and Services Clubs Association and powerful lobby group Clubs NSW, which has already launched an opposing campaign ahead of the March state election.

Labor leader Chris Minns has stopped short of supporting the mandatory cards as he wants to see them trialled first. He has voiced concerns about the economic impact the changes would have on clubs and pubs as well as potential job losses.

Mr Morey said no party came to this issue with "clean hands" but a bipartisanship approach was needed.

"We need to have a sensible policy decision that is above politics and ensures that we are looking after families in NSW," he said.

"Since (the number of) pokie machines increased in NSW there's been a significant transfer of wealth from working communities to the eastern suburbs and northern shore."

A study in November 2022 by Wesley Mission found there were 30 per cent more pokie machines in NSW than in Victoria and Queensland combined.

Mr Morey stressed he did not want to put a stop to gambling but believed it was crucial another "hurdle" was put in the way of people before they put money into a machine.

"It is a scourge on our society, particularly for working people who are taxed essentially with poker machines in clubs and in pubs.

"I'm calling on all leaders. There needs to be a bipartisan approach to this. This is a system that is geared to take money from working people."

Premier Dominic Perrottet said the comments by Mr Morey represented a "significant and important intervention" from the union movement.

"It’s not for me to comment on the Labor opposition here in NSW. They’re interested in short term politics; I’m interested in doing what is right," he said.

"We cannot have a situation where we are profiting off other people's misery."

The Health Services Union and United Workers Union have already voiced their support for the Coalition's proposal.

On Thursday Labor's health spokesperson Ryan Park was adamant the party wasn't "sitting on the fence" when it came to gambling reform.

"[Chris Minns] has said very sensibly we want to work through these reforms methodically, clearly and cleverly to make sure what we propose actually works and makes a difference to problem gamblers," he said.

"We want an expanded trial to include clubs and pubs and make sure we have a broad evidence base..."

Mr Park said Labor would release more details of the proposed expanded trial in the lead up to the election.

Mr Perrottet said gambling reform was a "major societal issue" in the wake of a recent report by the NSW Crime Commission, which found billions of dollars of "dirty" money was being put through the state's poker machines every year.

The report found criminals were feeding the proceeds of their illegal activity into pokies and recommended a cashless gaming card.

But Clubs NSW said this would only make regular punters feel like "criminals" and risked more than 9,000 club jobs across the state and $395 million in lost taxes.

"Introducing a government-issued cashless gaming card would force your local club to spend up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to install unproven technology to their existing gaming machines, which some clubs simply cannot afford," Clubs NSW said on their recently launched campaign website 'Reform the Right Way'.

RSL and Service Clubs Association chief executive Margot Smith recently told members there would be "unintended consequences" of a cashless card system and a "digital solution" should be investigated.

In October last year, the government launched the state's first cashless gaming trial at the Wests Newcastle club, which saw 36 machines fitted with new technology that allowed people to fund game play through their phone.

Patrons use a digital wallet to put money into the machine and can set spending or time limits, access real-time spending data, take a break or self-exclude from gambling. They cannot load funds into the gaming wallet from the gaming floor.

Last September, Tasmania became the first Australian state to introduce a mandatory cashless gaming card.

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