In the wake of their return to power after 12 years on the Opposition benches, the New South Wales Labor government, under the leadership of Premier Chris Minns, made a significant announcement in May of this year.
They declared that all pubs and clubs within the state would be required to eliminate outdoor advertising material promoting the infamous “VIP Lounges” that are associated with poker machines.
NSW Gaming and Racing Minister David Harris emphasised at the time the dangers of these “extremely prominent” signs, asserting that they place community members, including children, at risk of “gambling harm”.
He pledged to remove these signs in the name of “the health and wellbeing of our communities.”
Consequently, imagery featuring dragons, coins, and terms like “Players Lounge” and “VIP Room” in connection with poker machines were officially prohibited.
However, several days after the new law took effect on Friday 1 September, many Sydney hotels are already facing allegations of circumventing the regulations.
They are doing so by altering the appearance, colour schemes and wording of their signage – but their underlying intent remains unmistakable: to entice gamblers.
These flashing lights, vibrant colours and unmissable signs serve as powerful triggers for individuals addicted to poker machines.
Rather than complying with the new legislation, these actions not only demonstrate hotel owners’ and club managements’ blatant disdain for the government but also their indifference towards the welfare of poker machine players.
The new law marks a significant development, occurring 22 years after a previous Labor government, led by Bob Carr, initially prohibited gaming signs outside licensed establishments.
Since then, gaming venue bosses have continually altered their external signage, in the main managing to evade prosecution despite the clear ethical and legal violations.
The Minns government has outlined a “staged approach” for implementing the law, with Department of Liquor and Gaming officials currently overseeing and inspecting venues.
However, penalties, with a maximum cap of $11,000 (which may seem a paltry, token gesture towards cashed-up pub owners), will only be enforced from December.
The new rules are part of a broader set of measures introduced by the government to combat gambling addiction in New South Wales.
However, Labor has faced criticism for not endorsing a cashless gaming card, a measure favoured by anti-gambling advocates as an effective tool to address gambling harm and money laundering.
Since July, the government has reduced the maximum amount of money that can be inserted into new poker machines from $5,000 to $500.
Additionally, new legislation has been introduced to prohibit donations from clubs with poker machines to political parties.
While poker machines are not a concern for the majority of Muslims, given that gambling is considered haram, it is a major problem in some areas with substantial Muslim populations.
For instance, nearly a quarter of residents in the Local Government Area of Canterbury-Bankstown in southwest Sydney are Muslims, making it the LGA with the highest concentration of Muslims in Australia.
Astonishingly, poker machine losses in the Canterbury-Bankstown LGA topped half a billion dollars in 2021 and these figures should undoubtedly raise concerns.
In 2019, the Office of Responsible Gambling (ORG) conducted the NSW Gambling Survey, which revealed some more alarming statistics.
Among the 10,000 individuals surveyed, those who played poker machines were more than three and a half times more likely to experience gambling-related problems than those engaged in other forms of gambling.
A staunch campaigner for poker machine reforms is Georges River LGA Councillor Peter Mahoney.
In May 2023, Councillor Mahoney moved a motion congratulating the Minns government for their swift action in terms of banning signage outside of licensed venues which promote poker machine gambling.
The second part of the motion saw Mahoney recommend that (Georges River) Council seek advice from the government on how the new laws would be enforced.
The next three months will show us what the current government is made of, with regard to this issue.