Scope for Cash-free pokies in New Zealand

Cash free pokies in NZ

In New Zealand to tackle problem gambling, Department of Internal Affairs NZ is constantly making new ways and means to control the pokies menace. According to news reports the pokie industry fears that if the government pushes ahead with plans to make gaming machines cashless, then it would spell the end of pub-based pokies, and would take with it the $900m a year they generate in community grants. But gambling’s top regulator has a vision of biometric passports, intelligent poker machines that can tell when someone is gambling dangerously and an industry catching up with a society that no longer carries cash.

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) wants an “open and frank conversation” on whether cashless pokies are feasible, and believes that the move could save money, increase grants, reduce safety risks for pub staff and even help thwart problem gambling.

The idea of Cash free pokies

Skycity casino Auckland

The pokie industry is cautious, fearing the idea would kill off pub machines and force operators online in an unfair fight with big-money offshore gaming sites.  According to DIA director of gambling Chris Thornborough, they are trying not to do the usual government thing and come in with a particular solution, then consult on it.

Cash-free systems, where punters swap cash for a swipe card at venues, have been trialled and discarded in the past. But SkyCity casinos operate a similar model, using barcoded tickets instead of cash, called TiTo (ticket in, ticket out).

Though Thornborough warned he doesn’t want the “cheapest and easiest” solution if it doesn’t deliver clear benefits around problem gambling, health and safety and security, while keeping the risk of money-laundering low and reducing running costs. While he says he’s not prejudged any particular system, that laundry list has operators fearing the DIA will want an expensive, sophisticated solution.

Pokie operators say any outcome requiring punters have a biometric passport (to prove their identity before play), and special bank accounts (so money bounces around online only) will deter casual players – and cut turnover.

According to Bruce Robertson, the chair of the industry body GMANZ, they are happy to explore practical and reasonable options – but they have concerns that if what they  are seeing is what it looks like, it could have a significant impact on their fundraising ability… the signals, if they turn out to be correct, would actually decimate the industry and community fundraising and have a devastating effect on venues, which are a social hub.”

The Charity Stuff

NZ community

Pokie operators must, by law, return 40% of machine profits to charity – and know that their best public relations tactic is to flag any possible reduction in that figure.

Mike Knell, chief executive of one of the biggest trusts, New Zealand Community Trust, which returned about $44.5m in grants last year, said replacing the existing fleet of pokies could cost up to $250m. Knell said nowhere else in the world ran an entirely cashless system and he worried about the costs of development, potential IT hiccups and the risk of gamblers disliking it. Also Mike Knell fears it could cost $250m to replace machines.

According to Lawyer Jarrod True, who represents many pokie trusts, such plans were a “threat to the existence” of the pokie business, predicting a 50% cut in takings. True said the industry was already under siege from offshore websites, and the costs of cashless, combined with a drop in revenue would “all but eliminate community grants”.

Thornborough also denied fears that the DIA had a “hidden agenda” to get rid of pokies from pubs and push all such gambling online, if, as signalled, DIA minister Tracey Martin relaxes online gambling laws. The pokie trusts fear they would be unable to compete in the online world.

Thornborough is “really interested” in technology allowing what’s called mandatory pre-commitments: where punters have to set themselves a limit before playing. Machines might also be programmed to recognise an individual gambler’s style of play – and trigger a warning if they began chasing their losses aggressively.

The Problem Gambling Foundation have long wanted mandatory pre-commitments, but were cautious, noting that studies of TiTO systems showed play went faster as breaks in play help halt problem punters and reduced the need for staff to walk gaming floors and spot issues. Finally fingers are crossed as discussions are going on at various levels for the scope of cash free pokies in New Zealand.(with inputs from Stuff NZ news source)

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