The New South Wales treasurer, Matt Kean, has refused to say whether he believes a $1,000 a day spending limit on poker machines is too high, as the Coalition government faces increasing pressure to release details of its highly anticipated cashless gaming card.
The powerful crossbench MP Alex Greenwich has urged the Coalition to follow its colleagues in Tasmania by setting a $100 daily limit on pokies, saying a cap was “crucial” for cashless gaming to work at reducing gambling addiction in the state.
The premier, Dominic Perrottet, has repeatedly insisted the government will introduce cashless gaming in NSW if re-elected in March, but the Coalition is yet to release details of the policy.
A cabinet meeting on Monday did not include any detailed discussion of the cashless gaming card, and the government is wary of releasing the policy before winning over Nationals MPs nervous about the possibility of a backlash from the clubs lobby.
But the government is under increased pressure to unveil the policy after NSW Labor released its own reform plan this week. It included a mandatory trial of a card on 500 machines across the state, as well as reduced feed-in limits on new pokies.
While Kean on Tuesday ridiculed the Labor plan as “a gaming policy written by the gaming industry for the gaming industry”, he repeatedly refused to say whether the Coalition would introduce a daily spending limit on the card, or what the cap should be.
The Guardian understands internal negotiations over the card have included possibly introducing a $1,000 spending limit, like the one imposed on casino operators as part of an overhaul of the sector pushed through parliament last year.
Following the Bell inquiry’s report into the Star last year the Coalition government passed legislation to create a new casino regulator, along with a suite of other policies. Those changes included a requirement for both casino operators – Star and Crown – to move to a cashless gaming system, with transactions above $1,000 to be phased out.
A spokesman for the premier’s office would not comment on discussions over a daily spending limit.
Asked whether a $1,000 daily limit was too high, Kean refused to comment, saying it was “for others to decide”.
“What we’re saying is that we will come back with a policy very shortly,” he said.
“The premier has made it very clear that his policy is cashless gaming across NSW. He will have more to say about this shortly. But let’s talk about Chris Minns’ policy which is to be the cheer squad of the gambling industry in NSW.”
Greenwich, an independent, urged the Coalition to set a $100 daily limit and $5,000 monthly cap like Tasmania, saying it was “key” to reducing gambling harm.
“I think Tasmania has offered really good guidance in theirs with the default $100-a-day limit. I think that’s probably a good starting point. They also have provisions that to be able to spend more there’s a requirement to prove you can afford to do that,” he said.
“I’m open to discussions on whether those limits can move around and in the casinos there will be a $1,000-a-day limit, so I think somewhere between that would be a good outcome.”
While experts have been critical of Labor’s unwillingness to support the widespread introduction of cashless gaming, they also warn a high daily spending cap could have a negative effect on problem gambling.
The Tasmanian senator and gambling reform advocate Andrew Wilkie warned that any daily cap of $1,000 would be “patently ridiculous”.
“That is way too much for the vast majority of poker machine users and will do nothing to effectively track proceeds of allotted crime nor minimise harm to gambling addicts,” he said.
Wilkie also pointed to the Tasmanian government’s policy, while suggesting the government consider allowing gamblers to set their own daily limits.
“No one goes to a venue to lose their pension cheque. They go in thinking, ‘tonight’s different, I’m only going to spend $10’, but of course they start to lose and they chase those losses and they lose all capacity to think rationally because they’re addicted,” he said.
“But as long as people set limits themselves and do it before they start gambling the research has shown they will actually set sensible ones.”
The Labor leader, Chris Minns, said the proposed trial would not include a spending cap, even while he criticised the government for not committing to one. Rather, he said, the expert panel set up to oversee the trial would be asked to consider whether a daily cap should be introduced if the trial is successful.
“There won’t be a daily limit, but we will charge independent panel with the expertise to look at that,” he said.