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Huge pokie payouts didn't ring alarm bell
By Geesche Jacobsen - Sydney Morning Herald (NSW Metropolitan, 16 August 2004)

Theresa Lawson outside the Downing Centre courts. She told the District Court she had gambled nearly every night. Photo: Edwina Pickles

A club that made more than $760,000 in pokie payouts to one woman says it was not aware she had a gambling problem.

The woman, Theresa Rose Lawson, said she played two or three machines at a time, nearly every night, and gambled up to $10,000 a day at the height of a three-year gambling spree.

She was sentenced to a minimum of four years in jail last Friday for taking almost $2.7 million from her employer - money she claimed she gambled in poker machines in local clubs.

The court had heard Lawson, 53, often gambled at St Marys Band Club - of which she was also a director - and more than 90 per cent of all the club's pokie payouts went to her. The club denies the claim.

In evidence to the court, Lawson denied hiding or investing any money, saying she had spent about $2.5 million on gambling in three years.

Before sentencing Lawson, District Court Judge Helen Morgan said: "These clubs must know how much money is being spent on poker machines, and they just turn a blind eye."

But the club's general's manager, Larry Collins, said the club had "no inkling" of what was going on. "She did come to the club a lot, along with a lot of other people as well. She did spend money here. I am not privy to what sort of amount she spent."

Mr Collins said the club always tried to act responsibly, but could not approach people it suspected of gambling too much.

"Under the legislation, a person has to approach us," he said. "We don't have the right to say to a person: 'You are in the club too much."' While acknowledging the club had a duty of care, he said Lawson appeared to be able to afford her gambling.

A spokesman for the Gaming Minister, Grant McBride, said the minister could not comment on specific cases but was considering a recommendation by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal to improve the training of staff in gambling venues.

The Herald reported on Saturday that Lawson worked as a clerk in the payroll office at Woolworths Supermarkets. She had pleaded guilty to 19 counts of embezzlement and was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, with a minimum term of four years. | End



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