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Gamblers circumvent $250 ATM limit using cash-out machines with no questions from club staff

The Hellenic Club in Woden has a large sign at the entrance to the banks of poker machines, offering "eftpos cash out", advertising the cash machines that allow gamblers to keep withdrawing money after they've exhausted the $250 limit from ATMs in the foyer.

The $250 a day limit has been in place since early 2014, but almost immediately the Salvation Army warned the ACT government that clubs were installing "cash-out" machines to circumvent the ATM limit. Nothing was done.

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Why a problem gambler kept putting money in the pokies

Laurie Brown is an academic who understand the statistics and understands gamblers lose. She still lost $230,000 on poker machines.

In early 2015, the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission warned then gaming minister Joy Burch that the majority of clubs were using eftpos machines. Clubs agreed to put in place a voluntary code of practice requiring staff interaction to use eftpos machines.

Two years later, problem gambler Laurie Brown has revealed that she withdrew thousands of dollars a night from eftpos machines at the Raiders club in Belconnen in 2015 and 2016 to feed her poker machine addiction, with staff never questioning the amount she was gambling.

At the Hellenic Club in Woden, we witness one gambler return twice within the space of a few minutes to withdraw hundreds of dollars in cash from the machines placed next to the darkened poker machine room, where gamblers don't need to leave their chairs to get a drink, but can simply buzz a staff member to their side. To access the eftpos machine, gamblers ask the bar staff, who accompany the person requesting money to the machine, but don't question a quick return for hundreds of dollars more.

A regular gambler at the Hellenic and Tradies clubs in Woden who doesn't want to be named for fear of repercussions has called for the $250 daily limit to be enforced. He has even asked the club whether he could be barred from accessing the ATM and eftpos machines, but has been knocked back, with staff telling him his only option is to exclude himself from the club.

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That's an option he doesn't want because he loves the club for social interaction, the football, live music on Saturday nights and the food.

The gambler shows me his bank records, recording losses totalling $30,000 to $35,000 between August last year and mid-April this year. At the clubs, he takes out $200 at the ATM, then typically follows with as many as four eftpos withdrawals. On April 12, he made eight separate transactions at the Woden Tradies and the Hellenic club, withdrawing $1500 for the pokies in one evening.

While he is desperate not to lose his link to the clubs, he has had enough of what he sees as government hypocrisy, "making out that clubs are doing the right things helping problem gamblers", but turning a blind eye to the use of eftpos machines. And he wants to "save somebody else" from what he is going through.

He acknowledges there is an ATM not far from both clubs in Woden, so gamblers can leave the club to get money if they want. But he says leaving the club is a break in play and would discourage a big percentage to continue gambling for the night.

"It's like a junkie. Nobody forces you to take drugs, nobody forces you to gamble," he says. "But if there was a deterrent where you could only get $250, they would go home. I just want not to be able to have the temptation."

This gambler says he called Clubs ACT two years ago about the cash-out machines but was told to take responsibility for his own actions. And he says while he does take responsibility for his gambling and has not played the pokies since mid April, he wants clubs to stop putting temptation in the way.

"It's my stupidity," he says, insisting he is tackling his lifelong gambling habit himself and doesn't blame anyone else for his losses. "It just leaves a sour taste in your mouth knowing your own stupidity. But I just wish they would take away that temptation.

"I felt sick in the stomach when I read about the lady," he says, referring to Professor Brown, who lost about $230,000 on the pokies.

"The amount of money I've lost over the years on gambling, I could have bought a house in O'Malley. It terrifies me."

The Hellenic club did not want to comment.

The Greens are pushing for change to cash-out rules. Under pressure, clubs are offering a voluntary $250 limit on cash out per transaction but gambler would still be able to make multiple transactions.