clubs advise vigilance against “world’s dumbest criminals”

Senator Nick Xenophon was back in the headlines today. His proposal to ensure that any poker machine payouts over $1000 must be paid by cheque and reported to AUSTRAC isn’t new (a similar amendment to AUSTRAC legislation was knocked back last year) but this time he’s hoping to get it through Senate in its own Bill.

This is about money laundering, and making it so cumbersome for criminals to try and wash funds through poker machines that they’ll simply give it up. It’s not a bad idea, and let’s face it: how many “casual gamblers” win that kind of money on the pokies?

But it was the reaction of Clubs Australia executive director Anthony Ball that caught my attention. I’ve largely given up commenting on his many absurd pronouncements, but this was so blatant that I couldn’t let it slide.

This is what Ball had to say about money laundering on poker machines:

“You would have to be the world’s dumbest criminal to try to launder money through a poker machine. Not only are clubs and pubs stacked with CCTV cameras, but when you cash out winnings of more than $2000, you’re required by law to produce photo ID and have your name, address and driver’s licence number recorded.”

It’s a fairly dismissive stance on a serious subject. Is he right? Let’s find out.

First up, money laundering on poker machines is indeed a significant problem. “Hotel Industry sources” put the figure at $2 billion per year. It’s been in the papers several times over the past couple of years, in articles such as “Threat to pokies as money laundries”, “Cheats and criminals hit jackpot” and “Dirty laundry”. And AUSTRAC, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, have specific rules and processes in place for gaming machine venues.

If the “world’s dumbest criminals” are laundering up to $2 billion a year through poker machines, what does that say about the venue staff who are supposed to notice?

Moving on.

The comment about closed circuit TV cameras is interesting. Remember that this is the organisation that savaged the proposed mandatory pre-commitment reforms as, amongst other things, an invasion of privacy. So take a look at this picture from the “It’s Un-Australian” website.

That looks suspiciously like a CCTV camera to me… I wonder who voted to let our pubs and clubs invade our privacy in this fashion?

But it’s the remainder of Ball’s statement that signals a complete departure from reality. If he’s to be believed, “…when you cash out winnings of more than $2000, you’re required by law to produce photo ID and have your name, address and driver’s licence number recorded.

Really?

No.

Seeing as Australia’s east coast contains almost all of our poker machines, I took a look at the legislation covering gaming machines in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. There was no mention of anything like this in the Queensland or Victorian legislation. No requirement to provide proof of identification at all.

Mind you, in Victoria all wins over $1000 already have to be paid by cheque, in full. You can’t take $500 cash and rest by cheque, or some other combination… it all has to be paid by cheque. Sounds like Victoria is already doing what Xenophon is proposing, so it can’t be that hard.

I paid closest attention to the NSW legislation, in particular Gaming Machines Regulation 2010. Ball is, after all, executive director of Clubs NSW as well as Clubs Australia, so I figured he was thinking of his home state’s laws.

Again no. Close, but no cigar. In NSW, if someone collects $2,000 or more on a poker machine, pubs and clubs are bound by law to pay out in cash up to $2,000 and the balance by cheque or electronic funds transfer, or (if the gambler requests it) the whole amount by cheque or EFT.

Furthermore, the law states that the gambler must provide only their name and signature. No drivers licence. No photo id. Just a name and a signature.

No other documentary proof is required.

Ball was, at best, completely wrong.

In all fairness, it must be said that some poker machines in NSW pay out in “gaming tickets” which can be redeemed for cash or, if the amount is large enough, by cheque. And yes, if you cash in more than $500 worth of gaming tickets more than two days after they were printed, then you have to provide some form of identification. But those are pretty specific circumstances, and quite obviously not what Ball was referring to.

I also took a look at the NSW OLGR website, where they keep licence checklists for hotels and clubs. These are audit checklists and ask very specific questions about the way pubs and clubs conduct their business. According to the official checklists, hotels do not need to track any “particulars” at all, except when a large linked jackpot is won. And clubs need to track the name and signature (as per legislation) plus address… but there is NO requirement to provide proof.

My last thought was that there might be some other form of overriding legislation that clubs and pubs had to comply with, which could possibly cover the provision of proof of identity. So I took a look at what AUSTRAC had to say.

Nothing. In AUSTRAC’s books a win would have to exceed $10,000 before it became a reportable “threshold” transaction, at which point a gambler’s identity would need to be verified. But $10,000 is a far cry from the $2,000 Ball was talking about.

There’s one other thing puzzling me. If, as Ball implies, money laundering on poker machines is dumb and just isn’t happening, then why does his organisation think differently?

You see, Clubs Australia has a section on their website titled “Anti-Money Laundering Obligations for Clubs”. It includes the following statements:

“All clubs that have gaming services for its members are currently required to have an anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing program in place, to assist in identifying and managing the risk of the machines being used by criminals for the purpose of laundering cash derived from illicit means.”

And:

“Money laundering undermines Australia’s economic integrity, supports organised crime, and does not provide clubs with gaming revenue. It is in clubs’ interests to be vigilant.”

Yes indeed. Only vigilance will deter the world’s dumbest criminals, eh Anthony?

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2 Responses

  1. Cathy says:

    What can one say. I was thinking that Jeremy might pay you a visit in relation to what you have said (I have something in mind).

    For more eye rolling you should take a look at the Clubs Australia and GTA submissions to the Poker Machine Harm Reduction ($1 bets and other measures) Bill 2012 inquiry. Not that what they have said overall is really anything new.

  2. Cathy says:

    Although there is much to criticize in their submission I found the following in relation to the ability to place bets quite ‘amusing’. It is under the heading of

    5. Australian Poker Machines are not ‘High Intensity’

    “In addition, the majority of gaming machines outside Australia have a feature that allows the player to ‘fast forward’ or interrupt reel spins, meaning bets can be placed every tenth of a second or less.”

    “First, it is impossible to play a game every three seconds for an hour uninterrupted. There are forced breaks in play such as free spins, second screen features and game notifications. Players typically need time to comprehend game results and limits on human dexterity prevent players from pressing the button immediately after the previous spin is complete, without delay. Research that has observed the actual speed of play for poker machine players in real gaming venues found that both recreational gamblers and problem gamblers played at an average speed of 7.5 seconds per spin (extrapolated to 480 spins per hour, when played non-stop).”

    To suit their agenda to play down the intensity of ‘Australian’ machines CA quotes/argues/suggests (among other things) the average speed is 7.5 seconds per spin. In the above paragraph CA allude to some reasons for this ‘lack of intensity’ and most interesting is the explanation that “players typically need time to comprehend game results and limits on human dexterity prevent players from pressing the button immediately after the previous spin is complete, without delay” (if this is so then one might expect such traits to be pretty much universal).

    By arguing in this way about the ability to sustain intense play it seems very odd that Clubs Australia would try and score points by talking about machines that supposedly have the capacity to accept bets in fractions of seconds. Surely, if they are arguing the above applies to ‘Australian’ machines which according to them are so much more inferior in their ability to accept bets in comparison, then one can only assume this is yet another exercise in being disingenuous.

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