Yesterday four men appeared in the Wellington District Court charged with more than 30 counts of ‘Obtaining by Deception’ after a two and a half year investigation into in an alleged $30 million pokie fraud.
The four men have close links with the South Island racing industry. One of them – Patrick O’Brien is the former chair of Harness Racing New Zealand and another, with name suppression, being a former gaming inspector.
David Fisher in today’s NZ Herald refers to an interview he conducted with Pat O’Brien two years ago where O’Brien laments the lack of funding for the racing industry and explains how he “set up the pokies trust at the centre of the allegations to get cash for race stakes and other purposes after funding dried up.”
The four face charges after a cross-agency investigation that started in June 2012 and follows on from other Department of Internal Affairs investigations into southern racing clubs in 2010 and 2009. That joint investigation, known as Operation Chestnut involved the department, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the Organised Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand (Ofcanz.)
Hamish McNeilly from the Otago Daily Times has been following pokie fraud stories for several years now and in this article from last May where he reports on the reduction in grants from pokie trusts going to racing he describes the allocation of funding grants to the racing industry from some of these dodgy trusts as ‘a money go round.’
These charges are just the latest crime associated with pokie gambling. With over $200 million lost on the machines in pubs and clubs there’s a lot of money washing around. Previous fraud activities in the last year include the treasurer of a sports club claiming fraudulent grants; a bar worker stealing $90,000 from pokie takings in Hamilton and an administrator for a pokie trust manipulating their financial accounts to make it look like they had distributed the required minimum amount of the funds their machines generated from gambling.
These dishonesty crimes don’t take into account the countless thefts by people who have problems with pokie gambling that are reported in the media on a depressingly regular basis. Given that about 40 percent of the funds from pokies that go to the pokie trusts for distribution come from people with little or no control over their gambling behaviour it’s little wonder the industry is riddled with crime.
Our Green policy is for more transparency around the distribution of funds for pokie trusts and to introduce pre-commit cards and real-time player tracking for gamblers so that we eliminate problem gambling once and for all.