Unions say Minns government must slash pokie numbers in clubs, pubs

The state’s powerful union movement has launched a new assault against poker machines, insisting the NSW Labor government dramatically cut the number of pokies by at least 25,000 over the next five years.

In a major intervention into the debate over gambling reform, Unions NSW – which represents 600,000 members across its affiliated unions – passed a resolution at its annual general meeting on Thursday to slash the pokie numbers and bring NSW in line with Queensland.

NSW has 87,298 poker machines – or one per 95 people – while Queensland has 50,000 (or one for every 109 people).

Unions NSW want the Minns government to dramatically reduce the number of pokies in the state.Credit: Flavio Brancaleone

The resolution, which will heap pressure on the Minns government to be more bullish in its approach to overhauling gaming in NSW, said Unions NSW acknowledged “a complete ban on poker machines is unrealistic”.

“However, there is a need to phase down the number of poker machines in our state,” the resolution said.

NSW Labor has committed to bringing down the number of pokies across the state by increasing the forfeit rate to one poker machine for every two purchased. In the current legislation, the forfeiture rate is one to two or three.

However, the unions’ resolution is far more ambitious and calls for a moratorium on granting new poker machine licences in pubs and clubs, and when venues close or relocate, those licences would be cancelled and the machines removed from circulation.

The resolution also called for “the $1 billion tax subsidy for poker machines installed in registered clubs” to be used to compensate pubs and clubs for the removal of licences.

“Compensation should be minimal given the historical profits made from those machines,” the resolution said.


In a briefing paper circulated to members, Unions NSW said “gambling has both a direct and indirect effect on workers employed in venues where poker machines are located”.

Unions NSW said the state had an unhealthy gambling addiction, and noted that the NSW Crime Commission labelled NSW the “gambling capital of Australia” because of the vast sums of cash flowing through poker machines in pubs and clubs.

“Australians outspend the citizens of every other country on online gambling, with $95 billion turned over in poker machines in NSW pubs and clubs each year – equivalent to almost three times the NSW Health budget,” the paper said.

“Of the $25 billion Australians lose to gambling every year, poker machines account for $11.7 billion.”

In late 2022, the NSW Crime Commission delivered a damning report which found “a significant amount of money which is put through poker machines is the proceeds of crime”, including drug dollars.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said NSW had too many pokies, “pure and simple”.

“The brutal truth about poker machines is that supply creates demand, and in turn, misery,” Morey said.

“It’s not beyond our political will and policy imagination to reduce the social damage created by poker machines through a phased reduction. Unions are ready to work co-operatively with the state government on a robust reform process.”

Morey made a significant foray into the debate over the future of poker machines last year when he backed then-Liberal premier Dominic Perrottet’s cashless gaming card proposal.

Gambling reform advocate Tim Costello, who was highly critical of NSW Labor’s gambling policy ahead of last year’s election, said he had been talking to Unions NSW about gambling reform for about 18 months.

“Unions NSW are totally spot on with what they are doing because, as I say ad nauseam, why is it that NSW has 35 per cent of the world’s pokies in pubs and clubs?” Costello said.

A spokesperson for Minister for Gaming and Racing David Harris said the government had already taken action on pokies.

“The NSW government has already lowered the state’s cap on poker machine entitlements for pubs and clubs by more than 3000 through an amendment to the Gaming Machines Regulation.

“We have also committed to changing the gaming machine entitlement forfeiture scheme so that for every two entitlements traded, one will be forfeited. This will further reduce the number of poker machines allowed in NSW.”

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Source: smh.com.au

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