Anti-gambling crusaders want club to refund money spent on pokies

Politicians want pokies refundAustralian politicians are calling for a club to refund a professor who went on a gambling spree.

A Canberra professor, Laurie Brown, lost $230,000 over six months on the pokies at a Belconnen club.

Now anti-gambling crusaders, MP Andrew Wilkie and Senator Nick Xenophon want the Raiders venue, where Brown lost the money, in conjunction with the bank to refund the lost money.

“Regardless of any legal liability the bank or Raiders club might have, surely if they’re good corporate citizens they would understand that they have a clear moral responsibility to remedy the situation and to actually pay that money back to Laurie,” Mr Wilkie said.

Senator Xenophon is blaming the club for failing to put in place the correct safeguards to protect vulnerable pokies players.

“What happened to Laurie can happen to anyone,” he said.

“The industry will try and portray it as people having a ‘character flaw or a weakness’ but in reality, the real flaw here is in the design of the machines which are designed to addict, and it highlights the need for urgent reforms.”

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has a $250 cash withdrawal limit on ATMs in clubs, but as Professor Brown has proven, there is a loophole where you can get “cash-out” via EFTPOS. As a result, Professor Brown was withdrawing as much as $3900 a night.

Senator Xenophon believes the loophole is the club’s fault.

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On Friday, the Greens revealed the state has more pokies than any Australian state or territory, with an average of 16.2 machines for every 1000 adults. New South Wales (NSW) is next in line with an average of 15.8 per 1000 adults.

As a result of Professor Brown’s story, the Greens’ Shane Ratternbury is now calling for limits on EFTPOS in clubs.

Meanwhile, Mr Wilkie said Professor Brown’s story was “simply unbelievable”.

“When Laurie first got in touch I didn’t doubt what she was telling me, but I still struggled to believe it,” he said.

“Here’s a university professor, an incredibly learned person, and some people would assume the last person who would become a poker machine addict.

“And she fell as far and landed as hard as anyone. It just went to show how dangerous Australia’s high-intensity poker machines are and how intensely addictive they are.”

While the ACT Racing and Gambling Commission is said to be investigating, the Raiders club said it would not be compensating Professor Brown for her losses.

Chief executive Simon Hawkins said she did not show any signs of problem gambling and it was her choice to spend the money.

He said staff said she was “calm and relaxed, very friendly” and showed no signs of distress, which otherwise may have triggered intervention.

Professor Brown and her partner John Formby have provided a spreadsheet of transactions in a bid to get the money back and facilitate better protections. It showed on five occasions between July 2016 and January 2017 she withdrew more than $3300 a night from Raiders Belconnen’s EFTPOS and ATMs.

The most she withdrew was $3990 on July 5, 2016, with $680 withdrawn from ATMs located outside the club along with six EFTPOS transactions inside.

Professor Brown claims the staff knew she was getting large amounts of money out since the machine was noisy when it spat out the $20 notes in front of them.

Her gambling spree ceased in January 2017 when the bank alerted her partner of the large withdrawals.

Mr Hawkins said although the spreadsheet was given to the club, since they couple compiled it there was no proof the money was withdrawn in the club, or even spent at the club.

Mr Hawkins added that even if adequate evidence was supplied, he does not believe staff could have noticed her problem gambling simply by the amount she was withdrawing and the number of transactions.

“At the end of the day there are some very wealthy people who like to gamble, and it’s not for me as an operator to say they’re not allowed to,” he said.

He added now that the self-exclusion system had improved, her case would not occur again.

Sarah O'Brien

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