A whistleblower has warned the “massive” lobbying power of RSL, sporting and leagues clubs will leave proposals for a gambling card “dead in the water before it gets off ground”.
Troy Stolz, a former ClubsNSW anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing manager, blew the whistle last year on the extent of money laundering through poker machines in pubs and clubs.
The industry is fighting a proposal for a government gambling card – a pre-loaded, registered card for gamblers – which was supported by the Bergin report into money laundering at Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.
Stolz has warned the proposal will trigger a huge lobbying effort by the politically-connected industry, which wields significant power in NSW.
“It is massive,” Stolz said. “My view is that the likelihood of any reasonable or practical reform is dead in the water before it gets off the ground, because the clubs will run a campaign with the hotels association, similar to the mandatory pre-commitment under the Gillard government, with [Andrew] Wilkie and [Nick] Xenophon.”
Key members of the NSW cabinet have ties to the hotels and clubs industry and may resist the introduction of a gaming card, if the industry maintains its opposition.
The police minister, David Elliott, is a former executive officer of the Australian Hotels Association. He remained a director of the Castle Hill RSL when he became a politician and but resigned the directorship when he became a minister in 2016.
The deputy leader of the Nationals, Paul Toole, also a former racing minister, is said to be close friends with Josh Landis the current CEO of ClubsNSW. Landis himself served as a Labor staffer, prior to joining the industry body in 2009.
The lobby groups of the clubs and pubs industry have long fostered close ties to key ministers, often seeking out supporters when they first join parliament, particularly if the MP has large pubs and clubs in their electorates.
In the Carr government, former sports minister, Paul Gibson, was known as the “minister for pubs and clubs”, even when he was a backbencher.
The former rugby league player was able to bring in tens of thousands of dollars through fundraisers attended by individual publicans and clubs, swelling the coffers of the Labor party. Throughout his career he was a strong supporter of their interests.
The AHA is famous for hosting lavish end of year parties for NSW politicians, journalists and staff, where the alcohol flows freely.
As a result, the event has made news for the wrong reasons. Then Opposition leader John Brogden faced questions about his behaviour after an AHA party in 2005.
Deputy premier John Barilaro has already publicly stated that the Nationals will never support the gambling card, saying any speculation about such a proposal “needs to be quashed immediately”.
ClubsNSW says it will have unintended consequences and that the sector was never the intended target of the Bergin report.
“The Bergin inquiry was not about clubs or pubs — it was an inquiry into Crown and its appropriateness to operate a casino licence at Barangaroo,” a spokeswoman said.
“In relation to the idea of a cashless gambling card, it is a non-starter. Commissioner Bergin made a passing reference to it in her 800-page report on Crown, and while it might sound to some like a harmless regulatory intervention, a mandatory gambling card would present considerable unintended consequences.”
Stolz is fighting his own battle against ClubsNSW. Last year, he launched action in the federal circuit court alleging bullying, sham contracting, underpayment and other breaches of the Fair Work Act.
ClubsNSW has previously said it would “vigorously defend” the allegation and was confident in its position.
Stolz is now being counter-sued for alleged breach of confidentiality, an allegation which he denies.
ClubsNSW is also taking Liquor and Gaming NSW to the federal court to try to secure the gambling regulator’s communications with Stolz.
Stolz said the regulator’s website guarantees that such information would be kept confidential.
Breaking that promise would scare future whistleblowers from coming forward, he said.
Stolz says the legal battle has already cost him $250,000.
“It’s taken its toll, no doubt, but I’ve still got some wind in the sails,” he said.
“We need more people to come out, not less people to come out. If liquor and gaming decide to start releasing information that is promised as confidential reporting portals, if they start releasing that information … no one is going to come forward with the threat of being sued.”
Transparency International Australia said whistleblowers like Stolz played a critical role in exposing money laundering.
Chief executive officer Serena Lillywhite said the use of courts by the industry and its lobbying group would have a “chilling effect on whistleblowers”.
“Whistleblowers need to be protected and supported and have confidence that if they speak up, and share information, they will not be implicated in court,” Lillywhite told the Guardian. “Without these assurances whistleblowers will be reluctant to come forward and expose what they know, and the public will never know just how big a problem money laundering is in Australia.”
Justin Field, an independent in NSW’s upper house, said the government had previously indicated as much as 20% of money going through NSW poker machines might be linked to organised crime.
“When an industry goes after whistleblowers like this, it suggests to me that they’ve got something to hide,” Field said. “We’re getting to a point where we should be having a deep dive commission of inquiry into the pokies industry in this state.”
“The reputation of the gambling industry is in tatters after the Crown inquiry and the demonstrated links with organised crime and money laundering. We know those links also exist in the clubs and pubs sector because of the huge number of poker machines across NSW that collectively see almost $90bn fed into them each year.”
ClubsNSW was approached for comment.