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Gavin Harper
by Gavin Harper
Wests Newcastle cashless gaming trial

The evaluation report for the Wests Newcastle cashless gaming trial, which ran between October 2022 and June 2023, revealed that the technology had minimal impact on player behavior. During this period, the pilot study monitored 260 customers who had access to digital wallet technology developed by Aristocrat. Surprisingly, only 20 participants chose to utilize this cashless system, which was installed on 144 pokie machines at the venue. Critics have pointed out that the trial lacked effective harm reduction measures, which they consider crucial for managing risks associated with playing pokies.

NSW's First Cashless Gambling Trial

In 2022, the New South Wales Crime Commission's inquiry into money laundering through poker machines revealed that billions of dollars were being funneled illegally through these venues. To tackle this issue, the inquiry recommended a trial of cashless gambling technology aimed at plugging the loopholes associated with using cash. The New South Wales government called upon gambling machine manufacturers to assist in implementing the study.

In response, Aristocrat Leisure Limited developed a smartphone app integrated with a digital wallet that connects to banking funds. The leading Australian gambling machine manufacturer also engineered an interface allowing poker machines to sync with the digital wallet via Bluetooth. This setup includes voluntary responsible gambling features similar to those a player would experience playing Australian online pokies at virtual casinos, such as limit settings and the use of physical cards for accruing loyalty points.

Phil Gardner, CEO of Wests Group Australia, emphasized the initiative's dual benefits at the pilot study's launch. “This trial builds on our long-standing commitment to patron choice and welfare. We know many of our patrons want the convenience of digital payments, which is part of this trial. The trial also allows us to offer a powerful new suite of digital tools to empower our members and allow them to set limits, speak to a staff member, or even exclude themselves from the club if they choose.”

NSW Cashless Gambling Trial Yields Mixed Results

Professor Paul Delfabbro from the University of Adelaide has recently published a report for Liquor and Gaming NSW, detailing the outcomes of the state’s first cashless gambling trial that concluded in June 2023. The report draws on interviews with 77 participants, revealing that about half appreciated the convenience of the new cashless technology. Moreover, 61% of the participants noted that the technology helped them monitor their gambling habits more effectively.

Despite the general approval of the responsible gaming features incorporated within the technology, the report indicates that such tools were underutilized, with only about 70% of participants engaging with them occasionally. Professor Delfabbro commented on the findings, suggesting that while the technology minimally influenced overall gambling behaviors, it did enhance users' ability to manage and track their spending more efficiently.

Although small in scale, the pilot was executed effectively. Additional support, including enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity and designated registration areas, was provided in some venues, facilitating a smoother transition to and testing of the new digital tools available to gamblers.

Critics and Recommendations

The evaluation report on NSW's cashless gambling trial has elicited a range of views from stakeholders, revealing complexities in implementing new gambling technologies. The report highlights the need for extensive training to acquaint people with the new systems, suggesting that larger venues might be better suited to roll out cashless gambling solutions than smaller ones.

Delfabbro noted in the report that the trial exposed challenges associated with running tests where participants had access to both new and traditional systems. He observed that patrons often preferred the familiarity of older machines, even when new technology was available alongside them in the same venue, indicating a resistance to adopting new methods.

Critics, particularly from the gambling reform sector, have voiced concerns over the trial’s findings, especially regarding its approach to harm reduction. Carol Bennett, CEO of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, criticized the trial for not adhering to recommendations from the NSW Crime Commission, which advocated for a mandatory cashless card with set spending limits. Bennett argued that the pilot should have placed greater emphasis on gambling harm reduction strategies, including enforced breaks, limited playing hours, and restrictions on credit card use and reward programs. These criticisms highlight a call for more stringent measures to ensure the effectiveness of cashless gambling in promoting responsible behavior.

Final Thoughts

The Wests Newcastle cashless gaming project was a well-intended effort to reduce money laundering further and protect customers from gambling harm. Despite these goals, the project encountered several issues, from its initial concept to its implementation and subsequent analysis. The trial notably fell short of its primary objective of reducing gambling-related harm. However, despite these shortcomings, the pilot provided valuable insights. It served as an important learning experience, offering the NSW gaming authorities a foundation to improve and refine future regulatory efforts in the gaming sector.

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