Residents of Lake Illawarra in New South Wales, Australia are used to waking up, opening the Illawarra Mercury and reading about weather, traffic, politics and local happenings of the day. What one resident didn’t expect to see was a friendly reminder in a September edition of the paper issued by police, advising residents that it is illegal to own a poker machine in the region. Not only is it unlawful, it has been for quite some time. The resident immediately called the local authorities and handed over a vintage poker machine that he had owned for more than 30 years, much longer than the law had been in effect.
The 67 year old man from Horsely wasn’t about to risk being caught in possession of the illegal pokie after discovering just how exorbitant the penalty for such an infraction could be. According to the law, anyone in New South Wales found to be in possession of an antique poker machine can be penalized with a hefty fine of up to $11,000, a lengthy jail term of up to 12 months, or both. Having been the proud owner of the antique gambling device for more than three decades, he was just as surprised as anyone to find out he had breaking the law for nearly half that time.
As the Horsely resident discovered last month, possession of a poker machine, in part or in whole, was banned by the NSW Gaming Machine Act of 2001. “Even if the machine is dismantled or disabled, operating or not, it is outlawed for a citizen to own one,’’ explained Licensing Sergeant Gary Keevers of Lake Illawarra in the original reminder issued via the Mercury back in September. ‘‘It is even illegal to own components, art work or boards from old machines,” he said.
Sgt. Keevers went on the clarify that, when the pokie law went into effect 13 years ago, it became illegal for anyone to own or have in their possession any old, mechanical poker machine, while placing restrictions on modernized, electronic pokies so that only pubs, clubs and hotels may own them. NSW authorities have gone so far as to monitor the sales of such machines at online websites like eBay and Gumtree, often making an appearance at land-based auctions as well, in order to keep track of the sale and acquisition of illegal gambling devices.
When the Horsely man voluntarily surrendered the illegal pokie to Lake Illawarra authorities, he was not penalized. For his honesty, the man was merely issued a warning and told that no further action would be taken against him.
Sgt. Keevers said that the police are well aware that the poker machine law isn’t widely known, nor is the penalty for breaking that law. Hence, they decided a public reminder would be a benefit to both the public and the system. He went on to say that anyone who owns a vintage poker machine may contact the licensing division of the Lake Illwarra police department to have the item properly disposed of, without threat of recourse.