RSL Australia warned over NSW clubs split

The RSL Australia president has backed cashless pokies in NSW but a proposal to strip pokies-packed clubs of RSL branding has drawn scorn from a senior government minister.

Greg Melick on Friday said he supported the Perrottet government’s plan to introduce gaming cards if elected to a fourth term in March.

“Cashless gaming is a sensible approach,” he told the ABC.

The cards have become a hot-button political issue in the state since a NSW Crime Commission report found billions of dollars in criminal proceeds were flowing through pokies each year.

Mr Melick said RSL sub-branches were separate from registered clubs bearing the RSL name in NSW but the national charity’s reputation was being harmed nationally by issues over pokies in clubs.

He suggested a complete ban may be the answer to avoid confusion among the public, who see the name and “assume it’s us and … we’re taking part in … or encouraging such activity”.

“If we can’t force them to stick to certain guidelines and ethical practices, I’d like to see them stop using the name,” he said.

The veteran barrister, who had stints on the defunct National Crime Authority and NSW Casino Control Authority, said legislation may be needed to formalise such a split.

But NSW cabinet minister and former Castle Hill RSL Club Limited director David Elliott warned against such a move.

“There are sub-branches out there with millions of dollars in their bank account because the gaming and food and beverage institution essentially sold them the real estate,” the former Army captain said.

“Fifty years after these financial arrangements were made and some of these clubs separated from their sub-branches, all of a sudden they have decided there is a branding issue? I don’t think so.”

Premier Dominic Perrottet’s commitment to cashless gaming remains controversial internally, with the Nationals and Mr Elliott sceptical.

“I’m keen to find where in the world the cashless card has worked. I want it to work,” Mr Elliott said.

“It’s no good restricting a problem gambler to a cashless card if they’re just going to go online gambling overseas … (or) walk over the road and buy $100 worth of scratchie tickets.”

Meanwhile, Labor leader Chris Minns is under pressure to explain how his voluntary cashless gaming card would operate after Unions NSW this week threw its support behind a mandatory card.

“This is not prohibition. This is a harm minimisation strategy. It’s about trying to give people time to think again before they put in more money,” Unions NSW head Mark Morey told AAP on Thursday.

Mr Minns said Labor’s policy was in the works, would be announced soon and would include venues across the state, including pubs and clubs.

“We want to make sure we don’t make a bad situation worse and that means building an evidence base to ensure a policy change, when implemented, has an effect,” he said.

The NSW Greens want poker machines phased out of pubs and clubs.

Most of NSW’s 90,000 poker machines are in registered clubs, taking in an average of $1325 a week per machine, up from $1086 a week in 2019.

But the big bucks are made in hotels where the average machine’s weekly profit exceeds $2800, figures published by the gaming regulator show.

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