According to state and federal investigators, more than $1 billion of illegal funds are being laundered via Australia’s pubs and clubs using gaming machines. Over 95,000 New South Wales poker machines are used as money laundering zones.
Video footage acquired by 60 Minutes, The Age, and The Sydney Morning Herald, the gang appears to have taken complete control of an Australian casino to launder money, with several people believed to be participating in the operation.
The syndicate works in two groups; the first group puts cash in two poker machines while the other uses connected gaming machines to chase an almost assured jackpot. It took an hour for the man to put down $27,000 into the slot machine, then he wagered one dollar and asserted the remaining amount as ‘clean’ winnings.
The gang is alleged to be operating in multiple locations and is accused of exploiting poker machines in casinos, pubs, and clubs along Australia’s east coast.
David Byrne, New South Wales chief gaming investigator, dispatched a team to conduct investigations. Byrne’s detectives at the NSW Gaming and Liquor department found 140 pubs and clubs and more than 130 individual gamblers linked to money laundering in the first four weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted.
“That’s only in the Sydney metro area; that’s not the entire NSW landscape. You’re talking about, at the worst level, child exploitation, human trafficking, firearms trafficking … terrorism funding – all of those can be packaged up in the same conversation as money laundering,” Mr. Byrne said. “I don’t think that clubs, where good, family-orientated people across NSW go to have dinner, want patrons to be walking past organized criminals laundering cash. I think, based on what we’re finding, they [pokies venues] need a wake-up call, definitely.”
As per state and federal agencies, pubs and clubs are not reporting these issues. Despite data and information showing that the problem affects many more venues, just 5.5% of NSW venues with electronic gambling machines have reported suspicious transactions to money laundering agency Austrac since January 2018.
Investigative reports by The Age, The Herald, and 60 Minutes have found evidence of an Asian organized criminal group operating in Queensland’s pokies establishments to launder money obtained via illegal prostitution and probable human trafficking. In another investigation unearthed by federal law enforcement authorities, a lady has been linked to the alleged laundering of $38 million in Sydney, the ACT, and Victoria’s pokie and casino establishments.
“We’ve identified an individual who won in excess of $1 million from an RSL club and was also associated with about 30-odd million dollars worth of activity across casinos in Australia,” Mr. Byrne said. “So not just NSW, the person traveled to other states and is associated with suspected money laundering activity.”
The 95,000 poker machines in NSW generate $1 billion in annual state taxes and up to 100,000 jobs, many of them in high-tech manufacturing of poker machines. The NSW government expects to collect AU$2.8 billion in gaming taxes this fiscal year, representing a 27% increase over the previous year.