Over Aus $1B Laundered Through Slots in Australia Pubs and Clubs, Regulator Claims

Posted on: November 29, 2021, 10:27h. 

Last updated on: November 29, 2021, 11:21h.

More than A$1 billion (US$710 million) a year in dirty money is being laundered through slot machines stationed in Australia’s pubs and clubs. That’s according to chief gaming investigator for the state of New South Wales, David Byrne, who spoke to The Age this weekend.

pokies money laundering
Around 76 percent the world’s slot machines based in non-gaming venues are found in Australian pubs and clubs, such as these pictured. (Image: Andrew Meares/The Times)

In Australia, much of the recent focus on financial crime has involved casinos that have enabled criminals to wash money through their VIP tables, notably Crown Resorts. But Byrne believes smaller slots venues also have a money laundering problem.

Byrne and his team identified 130 gamblers engaging in money laundering activities inside pubs and clubs in the Greater Sydney area alone. That’s just in the four weeks after Australia’s COVID-19 lockdown ended in mid-October,

Australia’s ‘Pokie Problem’

According to the Australia Institute Tasmania, in 2017 there were 187,000 slots, or “pokies,” as they are known colloquially, in pubs and clubs throughout the country. That represents 76 percent of the world’s slot machines stationed in non-gaming venues. In New South Wales alone, there are 95,000 such machines.

And while Australia has 0.3 percent of the world’s population, it has 18 percent of its slot machines.

Speaking to The Age over the weekend, Byrne called for the introduction of cashless wagering cards that would “negate the ability for people to walk in with a bag of cash and put $30,000 into a machine.”

Surveillance footage from an unnamed Sydney pub seen by The Age shows a gang member plowing $27,000 ($19,000) into a slot machine. He then bets $1 before cashing out the rest as “winnings.”

According to the newspaper, the group is suspected of being part of one of several organized crime outfits using slots to wash money on Australia’s east coast.

Lack of Oversight

Like casinos, pubs and clubs are required to file suspicious transaction reports (STRs) as part of national anti-money laundering directives. But there are concerns the venues are not doing their bit.

Since January 2018, just 5.5 per cent of venues hosting slots in New South Wales have filed an STR to AUSTRAC, Australia’s financial crimes investigation agency. That’s despite evidence the problem is far more widespread.

You’re talking about, at the worst level, child exploitation, human trafficking, firearms trafficking … terrorism funding – all of those can be packaged up in the same conversation as money laundering,” Byrne said.

“I don’t think that clubs, where good, family orientated people across NSW go to have dinner, want [patrons] to be walking past organized criminals laundering cash,” he said. “I think, based on what we’re finding, they [the venues] need a wake-up call, definitely.”