Expert urges caution in cashless gambling trial

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The New South Wales government has backed a trial of cashless gambling in Newcastle that will let people use digital payments for gaming machines like pokies. But the trial has been given the go-ahead before compelling research on the impact of digital payments on gambling and problem gamblers, meaning the design of the trial itself is crucial, a senior academic has warned.

Gaming giant Aristocrat and Wests Newcastle have proposed the first test of the technology in NSW, arguing it will help gamblers better manage their play while also combatting money laundering problems in the industry.

Details of the trial, which was supported by the state government on Monday, are limited but are expected to include gambling measures like money limits, session time limits, information, and real-time messaging to customers and marshals.

A trial of cashless gambling will be conducted in Newcastle in September by gaming giant Aristocrat. Image: Pexels/Daria Sannikovat.

University of Sydney Associate Professor Dr Sally Gainsbury said the design of the NSW trial would be critical to ensuring it is robust and able to shed more light on an area which has seen little academic research.

She said the impact of cashless gambling depends on how harm minimisation measures are implemented and whether they are offered along with traditional payment methods.

Key to reducing gambling harm will be ensuring the technology comes with enough “friction”, Dr Gainsbury said, something digital payments famously remove.

“It’s how you build the system that’s going to be really critical,” Dr Gainsbury told InnovationAus.

“Obviously, if you make it so you can stand at a machine, tap your credit card or bank account straight to it and just keep piling money onto it, and just keep putting that straight into the machine, there is very high risk [of harm].

“Because we know from consumer research that digital payments do increase expenditure and reduce awareness of how much they’re spending. So the system has to be designed where it has at least as much friction as actual cash, and ideally more so.”

For example, digital payments cards or wallets for gambling could also impose geolocation and time limits to require gamblers to leave gaming venues or wait before more funds are released – a break that has been shown to reduce problem gambling.

Digital payment options also offer a way to inform gamblers about their losses, Dr Gainsbury said.

“People lose track of how much cash they’re spending, and they overestimate how much they win and underestimate how much they lose.

“So by sending people an activity statement every month you can start to be more informed, and you can start to set up deposit limits.”

The NSW trial will be conducted at Wests Leagues Club in Newcastle, where cashless payments will be available for all club services, including electronic gaming machines.

The cashless gambling tool will allow patrons to set limits, speak with staff and exclude themselves from the venue, which has more than 540 electronic gaming machines and already among the most profitable gaming clubs in the state.

Users will also need to complete a 100 point ID check and link their digital wallet to an Australian bank account.

Aristocrat is now developing its digital solution and expects installation and testing at the Wests club to commence early August, with a live trial to start in September.

Minister for Digital and Customer Service Victor Dominello said he was encouraged by the industry’s technology trial.

“I support this digital proposal as it is linked to identity, a bank account, and with harm minimisation settings. This will help us combat the twin sins of money laundering and problem gambling, addressing the key concerns of the Bergin Inquiry,” Mr Dominello said.

Last year, Mr Dominello advocated for an identity-linked, preloaded card for gamblers in NSW that could be preloaded like the state’s public transport card, rather than venue-specific cards.

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