Organised crime gangs in Australia are using slot machines – “pokies” in Australian slang – to launder hundreds of millions of dollars of dirty money.
Footage of the gangs in action shows how one criminal “washed” $27,000 of dirty money in just 4 hours, using just one of 95,000 pokies in New South Wales.
The investigation by 60 Minutes, along with others by national newspapers, has revealed the massive extent of the criminal operations. It shows how the pubs and clubs that offer the pokies are complicit in money laundering. Only 5% report suspicious transactions.
The footage shows how organised groups descend on the slot machines rooms, effectively taking them over. They feed the machines relentlessly with money believed to be from human trafficking, drug dealing and other crimes.
Overseeing operations is “the general”. He is the one who supplies the dirty seed money and is seen keeping a record of how much is being fed into the machines and is also responsible collecting and cashing the winning tickets.
The basic “footsoldiers” in the operation – known as “link chasers” – are looking to scoop the jackpots that are linked between hundreds and even thousands of machines state-wide and nationally.
Another part of the money-laundering machine is the ”feeder”. The man seen in the video above simply feeding notes into two machines simultaneously. Having put $27,000 of dirty money in, he wagers $1 and withdraws a ticket for the entire amount, now effectively clean money.
Gangs use “pokies” to launder millions of dollars
The simple yet highly effective and lucrative operation is believed to be happening all over the state of NSW. It is also suspected to be replicated in other Australian states as well.
An investigation led by the NSW Gaming and Liquor department shortly after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted identified 130 individuals and 140 pubs and club as being linked to money laundering.
Chief gaming investigator for the department, David Byrne, explained: “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.”
Pokies, the slot machines known by this name in Australia because of the original poker, or card-playing, games used in the machines, are ubiquitous in the nation.
From corner pubs to clubs and casinos, from private venues to public sports and social clubs, the pokies can be found everywhere, and therefore offer huge opportunities for unscrupulous activities.
Byrne identified one case in which “an individual who won in excess of $1 million from an RSL club [ Returned and Services League of Australia of which there are more than 500 nationally.]
The woman “was also associated with about 30-odd million dollars’ worth of activity across casinos in Australia,” Mr. Byrne added. “So not just NSW, the person travelled to other states and is associated with suspected money laundering activity.”
With such obvious links to criminality, the big question being asked is why the state and federal government haven’t acted sooner, or more forcefully, to clamp down on the illicit activity.
Lots of suspicious transactions
Part of that lies with the venues themselves – only 5.5% of NSW venues reporting suspicious transactions to money laundering agency, Austrac, since the beginning of 2018.
With the 95,000 or so pokies providing a hefty $1billion in taxes to the state coffers, and supporting over 100,000 jobs in the region, including the manufacture off the gaming machines, the political will to interfere simply isn’t there.
However, the recent investigations may have some effect on that. As David Byrne stated, “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.”
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