ClubsNSW drew a target on me over reforms, says minister Dominello
A senior NSW Liberal minister has spoken for the first time about how a powerful Australian gambling lobby group forced him out of the portfolio and has called for an investigation into its influence over government.
In an interview with ABC, Victor Dominello accused club industry lobby group ClubsNSW of being “the equivalent of the gun lobby in the United States”.
“There’s just no mistake about that. Our blind spot is poker machines and they’re extraordinarily powerful,” he said.
Asked if he believed there should be an inquiry into the influence of the lobby group over governments, Mr Dominello, who is retiring from politics, said he did, and called on whoever took power after this month’s NSW election to act.
“(There should be) an inquiry or some other examination to make sure that MPs are not cowed into moving a certain way because of this powerful industry,” he said.
“For the sake of our democracy, I really believe that this is an issue that the next term of government should address.”
Mr Dominello spoke as part of an investigation into the power and influence of ClubsNSW, the not-for-profit lobby group for more than 1000 registered clubs across the state, which collectively own and operate more than 64,000 poker machines.
The industry, which has defeated previous attempts at gambling reform, is facing its greatest test yet at the NSW election.
The introduction of mandatory cashless gambling for poker machines is a central election issue.
Poker machine reform activists believe the outcome could determine the fate of gambling reform nationally and even internationally.
“If New South Wales can address the issue of poker machine reform, this is not just important for us, it’s not just important for Queensland and Victoria, it’s actually important for the world because if New South Wales can beat pokies, anyone can,” Wesley Mission’s Jim Wackett said.
Mr Dominello was the NSW minister with responsibility for gambling policy when he floated the introduction of a mandatory cashless gambling card for all poker machines in the state in 2020.
The reform, which would force all poker machine users to nominate how much they were prepared to lose, was aimed at addressing problem gambling.
It was strongly opposed by ClubsNSW, which claimed the reform would cost 9000 jobs and slash clubs revenue up to 30 per cent.
“The view taken by ClubsNSW was just so strident against it, and there was no give,” Mr Dominello said.
“It was just, ‘No, we don’t want it. We will not have it. We will fight you to the death on it.’”
After he proposed the idea, Mr Dominello said he and his colleagues in government and across the parliament were immediately targeted by ClubsNSW representatives.
“The lobbying was very intense,” he said. “It was the most intense I’ve ever seen in 12 years as a minister.”
The clubs’ message found a receptive audience in Mr Dominello’s Coalition colleagues, the Nationals, who feared the reforms would damage clubs in their rural heartlands.
Mr Dominello said the lobby group had a “sense of hubris” about its influence in NSW and because of the success it had in killing off poker machine reforms proposed by then-prime minister Julia Gillard a decade ago.
Ms Gillard ditched the plan after a campaign co-ordinated by ClubsNSW through Clubs Australia.
When Premier Dominic Perrottet reshuffled his cabinet in December 2021, he stripped Mr Dominello of the gaming portfolio. It was handed to the Nationals.
In a statement, Mr Perrottet said ClubsNSW’s lobbying had no influence on his decision to remove Mr Dominello from the portfolio.