There’s a new chapter in the grubby history of the NSW government’s gambling addiction and the sway gambling operators have over Macquarie Street and it comes from an interesting source: www.news.com.au, rather than one of the Murdoch newspapers.
The story is a tawdry Sydney saga of quiet deals done to keep a gambling operator rich and never mind what happens to mug punters as long as the money rolls in. And no doubt if money also rolls in as political donations to the Labor Party, so much the better.
At about the same time Crikey publishes, news.com.au is due to put up three yarns detailing an allegedly secret deal to allow the TAB to offer credit betting to select high rollers. No surprise that such a scheme ensnares a problem gambler with disastrous results:
A SUBURBAN solicitor gambled more than $10 million while caught up in a secret government scheme that allowed Australia’s biggest gaming group Tabcorp to lend money to customers to bet with.
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Sydney solicitor Chris Fitzsimons, 62, lost his practice and was admitted to hospital after a breakdown over his mounting debts after being lured into a scheme known as “credit betting”.
Credit betting is illegal in most Australian states and many countries around the world, but in 2002 Tabcorp – then known as TAB Limited – secretly won New South Wales Government approval to loan money to gamblers it called “select high value wagering customers”.
The scheme, which has never before been revealed, exploited a legal loophole in the NSW Gaming Act, allowing punters to borrow up to $100,000 to gamble with TAB.
Documents seen by NEWS.com.au show TAB warned the NSW Government in 2002 that gaming tax revenues were under pressure, and asked the government to relax gambling restrictions.
The then gaming minister, Richard Face, later approved a “credit-betting” scheme and agreed it should be kept quiet after a government paper raised “the potential for criticism to be levelled at the Minister/Government”.
Mr Face told Parliament in 1996: “Concern has been expressed that the government is extending credit betting. That is not the case … the government and I have continued to express opposition … to a form of credit betting that gets people into difficulties.”
Yep, that’s Dick Face all right. And the NSW government.
The stories – by Will Temple and news.com.au editor David Higgins – break ground for News Ltd in getting the jump on the usual mastheads and signal News investing more resources on-line. Higgins believes it could be the first time a major media company here has broken an investigation story on-line rather than in its old media.
As TABcorp might say, who’d credit it?