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April 21, 2024

A peek into the Tweed gambling cartel 

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Tweed MP, Geoff Provest (Nationals), worked in licensed clubs for 27 years, including 14 years as general manager of the Tweed Heads Bowls Club. 

At one stage, he was responsible for over 340 poker machines. He has lots of letters after his name, the preeminent being ‘CCM’. I had to look that up, not being a qualification I was overly familiar with – it apparently stands for Certified Club Manager, which is a certificate level thingy barely recognised outside clubland managementsville.

Geoff CCM is the Parliamentary Secretary for Police. 

This means he is paid extra to assist the Minister for Police. 

One would have thought that a condition of this role is to support law enforcement and investigators in their fight against organised crime, and money laundering in particular.

$95B gambled last year

The Crime Commission, with assistance from several government agencies, including the NSW Police, have recently released a report which found that in 2020–21, approximately $95 billion was gambled through pokies in pubs and licensed clubs in NSW. 

To put that in perspective, that is three times the size of the whole NSW health budget. 

Of this, billions were the proceeds of crime, or ‘dirty money’. 

The investigation, over years, included coercive hearings, surveillance and hard research culminating in the comprehensive report.

NSW Crime Commissioner, Michael Barnes, said poker machines offered criminals one of the last remaining safe havens where cash from criminal enterprises could be ‘cleaned’ or gambled with virtual impunity.

He said, ‘At the moment, serious offenders can enter NSW pubs and clubs, sit down next to patrons in gaming rooms, and openly feed large sums of cash from their crimes into poker machines with no real fear of detection… it is clear from our investigations it involves many billions of dollars every year’.

The introduction of a mandatory cashless gaming card is the first and key recommendation. 

The card is like a credit card, linked to each player’s bank account and verified by identity. 

It ensures that the gambler is only able to use their own money, and suspicious funds can be traced back. 

There is no cash for winnings or losings. Now what could be the downside of that?

Tweed Heads clubs, in the six months from December 2021 to May 2022, made $42 million profit from 1,600 machines. That’s profit, not turnover. Pubs made $10 million. 

With an industry-standard payout percentage of ten per cent, that’s a turnover of $500 million. 

Tweed Shire Council has an entire budget about half of that. 

To make my view plain, if you are against the cashless gambling card, you are supporting a range of criminal activities causing untold harm in our community.

Also, the cashless gambling card has a real chance of reducing harm for problem gamblers. 

Oh, and that is not just my view, NSW Premier Dom Perrottet said he was keen ‘to stop money laundering occurring in poker machines and ensuring that problem gamblers are not throwing their life savings down a pokie machine’.

What is the reaction of the local member? 

He is reported on ABC as saying, ‘I do not believe criminals are laundering money through Tweed Heads poker machines’, and he does not, accordingly, support the cashless gambling card. 

We are all relieved that there is a bubble around the Tweed, that prevents such activity so rife everywhere else. 

Clearly, there is no drug/sex abuse/slavery/criminal money in the Tweed to be laundered, not even dribbling down from the Gold Coast, and if there is, it is just spent on something else. Things. And stuff. 

But not in Geoff Provest’s clubs on the Tweed river, where butter would not melt in their mouth. 

Maybe he’s put up a hand-written sign on the notice board next to the bowls roster, forbidding money laundering? 

Or maybe it is just rank hypocrisy.

Here are a couple of quotes from Geoff CCM in parliament:  

‘We also must give police and the Crime Commission the powers they need to combat organised crime… Being located on the border, my electorate is often a pipeline for illicit activities coming from Qld into NSW and vice versa.’

And – ‘As each month goes by, large amounts of cash are being seized at our borders and on our streets. When I am out on the street with our local police, it is at times quite overwhelming to see the devastation, particularly the breakdown of family units, as a result of criminals prostituting our youth for their own benefit and with no regard for their wellbeing’.

Giving back?

And please, before you can say ‘yes but Clubs give back to the disadvantaged through community grants’, let’s look at the evidence. 

For example, Club Tweed in its latest annual published cash grants gave $33,000 in total to 11 community groups. 

And $482,000 to itself for ‘bowls green maintenance’. 

That’s largely returning a skerrick of pokie profits to one very select needy group in the community. Bowlers.

And here is the really big question – how can Geoff Provest CCM remain Parliamentary Secretary for Police, when his views are so diametrically opposed to NSW law enforcement, and those of the premier?  

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  1. Excellent article. Who was it that said ” if people see evil and do nothing.?…. The (slightly unrelated) issue that ran through my mind is when the NSW cops arrive en masse into Mullumbimby, take over the showgrounds, spend hours faffing around in a helicopter, harrassing locals and finding 12 marijuana plants, who is responsible for the outrageous cost of all of that? Who authorises it? Could it be Geoff?

  2. For the Tweed Council elections in the 1990s, Tweed gambling Clubs massively supported candidates, who were members and supporters of the local National Party. So the Council has for most terms gained a majority of so called “Independents” who voted for many concessions for developers, against the recommendations of professional officers of Council, and against the interests of its residents and ratepayers. The ‘brown paper bags’ donations featured in the 1989 North Coast ICAC inquiry, that shocked even some members of the National Party, gave way to more subtle but very handsome gifts.

    For decades local government has been a way for political parties to fill their coffers for State and Federal elections. Donations to local elections get little media scrutiny. Even seeking to view donations after returns are made, you will see many sealed envelopes where donors are not revealed.

    • Yes Alison, that’s a good question. Norths community donations record is on their website, and most goes to the development of one needy group – footballers.

  3. Thanks for this informative article David. It will be very sad for our beautiful village to be manhandled in such manner. And for Byron Shire.


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