Fury over decision to scrap Raiders club fine in problem gambling case
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Fury over decision to scrap Raiders club fine in problem gambling case

A problem gambler who lost more than $200,000 at the Raiders club in Belconnen is furious after the ACT's gambling regulator scrapped a record $120,000 fine that it imposed on the club for breaking poker machine laws.

The decision has also sparked anger from territory and federal politicians, who have described it as "bitterly disappointing" and "a joke".

Problem gambler Laurie Brown, who lost $226,050 at the Belconnen Raiders club over an 18-month period.

Problem gambler Laurie Brown, who lost $226,050 at the Belconnen Raiders club over an 18-month period.Credit:Karleen Minney

The ACT Gambling and Racing Commission penalised Canberra Raiders Sports Club Limited last year after finding that it had failed on eight separate occasions to record the signs that Professor Laurie Brown had a gambling problem.

Clubs are required by law to keep a record of anyone showing signs of problem gambling - signs such as being unable to stop gambling, or making multiple ATM withdrawals.

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The Raiders lodged an appeal against the fine in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal last November, slamming the commission's findings as "erroneous" and "riddled with errors".

The tribunal has since accepted an agreement reached by the club and commission to scrap the $120,000 fine and replace it with a formal reprimand, though what prompted the commission to backflip on the fine is unclear.

An ACT government spokeswoman said the commission would not comment on the matter until its board made a decision in accordance with the tribunal's orders, while Raiders Group chief executive Simon Hawkins did not respond to a request for comment.

A copy of the tribunal's consent decision, seen by the The Canberra Times, also shows that Raiders will donate $60,000 to an appropriate charity as part of the club's "ongoing commitment to support harm minimisation measures".

The club will also provide the commission with an external compliance report on its procedures and training for recording gambling incidents by December 1 next year.

The tribunal decision does not say what the reprimand involves.

Professor Brown, who lost $226,050 at the Belconnen Raiders club between June 2015 and January 2017, blasted the scrapping of the fine as "utterly pathetic and outrageous".

She said it was abundantly clear she was a problem gambler and that the Raiders club didn't fulfill its legal responsibilities.

"I feel like the rules are rigged so the house always wins," Professor Brown said.

"They've been reprimanded, which is a win, but it's a loss for us.

"If this is not a wake-up call for the government to change the laws I don't know what is.

"I think the Raiders should hang their head in shame."

Professor Brown said charities dealing with problem gambling shouldn't be "the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff", and that clubs had to be responsible for helping minimise harm.

"I chose to go into the Raiders, but I didn't agree to the Raiders making money out of promoting my addiction," she said.

"I feel completely let down by the Gambling and Racing Commission."

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said he was bitterly disappointed that the fine had been overturned.

Mr Rattenbury said he was especially gutted for Professor Brown, who he thought had shown great courage in sharing her story.

"I think a lot of people were encouraged by the stance taken by the Gaming and Racing Commission in the first place to protect problem gamblers," he said.

"I'm bitterly disappointed to see that unpicked with this fine being overturned, and I'm hopeful that the Raiders club has given some undertakings about changing its practices, because otherwise I fear that would see a repeat of this scenario."

Mr Rattenbury said the commission had not consulted the ACT Cabinet before agreeing to withdraw the fine, but he said it would have been unusual for it to do so because the commission was set up to operate as an independent body.

Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie, a strong advocate for poker machine reform, said withdrawing the fine was "outrageous".

"This makes a complete joke of the current system of regulation, when hearings take place behind closed doors and penalties can just get negotiated away," Mr Wilkie said.

"A paltry donation to charity and a slap on the wrist will do nothing to deter other clubs from breaking the law."

A spokeswoman for ACT Gaming Minister Gordon Ramsay said he had no comment.

Blake Foden is a reporter at the Sunday Canberra Times. He has worked as a journalist in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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