The New South Wales Coalition appears split on the future of cashless gaming in the state once again after the Liberal premier, Dominic Perrottet, denied the government was considering a carve-out for regional pubs and clubs as part of the scheme.
The denial was made less than 24 hours after the leader of the Nationals and deputy premier, Paul Toole, said the option was part of “ongoing conversations”.
“We all need to recognise that a large venue in the city is very different to a small venue in the bush,” he said on Thursday.
Just hours later when asked about the same issue, Perrottet flatly ruled out two sets of rules.
In November the pair had another public disagreement over the issue, with Perrottet “certainly in favour” of the measure while Toole insisted “the technology is not there”.
Independent Murray MP Helen Dalton warned that splitting the reform measure between the city and the bush would cause an influx of people travelling to gamble, similar to the situation in Albury before pokies were legalised in Victoria.
“I’m hoping that Paul Toole is not seriously going to water this down,” she said.
Dalton said regional NSW would continue to “bleed” money into machines, which would cause an even greater divide between regional and remote areas and Sydney.
“I know people have a bit of fun with a poker machine. But I sure as hell know the impacts of that on families, with family breakups, domestic violence, financial hardship, homelessness … and of course we’re left high and dry,” she said.
“We don’t have those counselling services. We’re stretched to the limit.”
Monash University gambling policy expert Dr Charles Livingstone warned against dividing by regions, arguing that the only sensible division would be hitting big clubs and pub chains first.
“There are big regional clubs that are as big as some of the Sydney clubs,” he said.
“Cutting that out of the equation would not make much sense. [Pokies have] the same effects in Albury as you would expect it to have in Fairfield.
“Hit the big clubs and the commercial pubs first because they have the wherewithal to do it.”
Livingstone said those clubs were often already running loyalty schemes and cashless gaming could be piggybacked off their software and hardware.
“In a way, that would also provide us a bit of a trial to make sure that we’re working properly before you got to the statewide rollout,” he said.
The government is under pressure to release its proposed plan ahead of the March state election after Perrottet committed to reforming the industry, including looking at a ban on political donations from pubs and clubs.
Earlier in the week the premier said the “finer details” were still being worked out.
The NSW Crime Commission released a report last year that found billions of dollars were being laundered through poker machines every year, propelling pokies reform into an election issue.
Greens spokesperson Cate Faehrmann agreed that a cashless system needed to be statewide or gamblers and criminals would head to the country.
“If people want to launder a lot of money, it’s very easy for them to jump in a car, head down the coast and gamble away in Nowra,” she said.
Faehrmann rubbished Toole’s claim that pokies were required to hold regional communities together, saying it was the government’s job to fund grassroots initiatives.
The opposition last week unveiled its pokies reform policy that included a year-long cashless gaming trial, the removal of signs outside gaming venues and new self-exclusion registers.
Labor’s policy also included a ban on donations from clubs that the Coalition has since said it was open to. While gambling companies are already stopped from donating, clubs are exempt from the ban due to their not-for-profit status.
The Labor leader, Chris Minns, on Friday said it was time for the Coalition to make public its plan for the cashless gaming rollout.
“It’s about time speculation ended and the policy was released,” he said.