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Gambling Related Essays and Reports by Andrew W Scott


The DPP takes over Tabcorp prosecution, then drops it

September 13th 2007

Nicholas Cowdery, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, has just made what could only be described as a bizarre decision. Mr Cowdery's decision will be heartily welcomed by Tabcorp and the NSW Labor Government, but has devastated one Chris Fitzsimons.

Who's Chris Fitzsimons? He's the former Chatswood solicitor who wagered more than $10 million from 2002 to 2006, punting on horses while utilising a credit betting facility extended to him by the NSW TAB. He now faces bankruptcy, has lost his practice and owes more than $1 million to family and friends. The credit betting facility was continued by Tabcorp after it took over the TAB in 2004.

'But isn't credit betting illegal?' I hear you ask. Yes, credit betting is banned in almost all spheres of gambling in Australia, including at TAB Agencies throughout NSW. It is also against the stated policy of the NSW Government. But in secret discussions in 2002 between then Gaming Minister Richard Face and the TAB, the TAB cried poor and said gaming tax revenue was under threat, unless it was able to offer credit. Despite initial denials and then protestations of amnesia about the matter, it is a matter of public record that Face caved in, authorising credit betting on Sep 2nd 2002, utilising a little known loophole in the Totalizator Act.

The TAB then got to work, offering its shiny new credit facility to some 350 'Special Account Customers', including adman and racing identity John Singleton. Chris Fitzsimons was also one of the 'special' who was offered credit betting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


An internal information paper for the eyes of the TAB Board reported Ernst & Young had estimated an increase in betting turnover of $10 million for just the first 15 customers to be offered credit. Extrapolate that to 350 customers and we are talking an extra $233 million a year in betting.

Within gambling circles credit betting is generally acknowledged as a great way for gambling providers (and thus Governments, through gaming taxes) to make more money, but it's devastating to problem gamblers. When a person bets with their own money, they can still come home with an empty pocket, but at least they don't come home with an unpayable debt, and the terrible consequences that arise from that debt. Normally a punter can't instantly liquidate the family home and bet it on a horse race in a moment of madness, but with credit betting any such moment can lead to the loss of all assets, subsequent bankruptcy and destroyed lives.

The TAB initially gave Fitzsimons credit of $5,000 a week. As Fitzsimons continued to lose it offered him $10,000 a week, then $20,000 a week: Fitzsimons claims they eventually said, 'tell us what you want and we'll give it to you'.

Fitzsimons claims a litany of illegal, deceptive and unconscionable conduct by the TAB over the period in question, and has a mountain of paperwork to support his claims.

 

 

 

 

As a result of this conduct, Fitzsimons wanted to commence criminal proceedings against TAB Ltd and Tabcorp. He satisfied the Registrar of the Downing Centre Local Court of the bona fides of the case, and was allowed to prosecute 11 charges under the Crimes Act, including obtaining money or financial advantage by dishonest deception. He wrote to the DPP on 6 August this year, requesting that Mr Cowdery take over the prosecutions. Cowdery's response was to ask Fitzsimons for a brief, which was supplied. The case was then put on the DPP's court list for 27 September.

Fitzsimons was delighted with the prospect of the DPP taking over the prosecutions, as the DPP has investigative powers not available to a private prosecutor, and would therefore be likely to unearth further evidence of Tabcorp's wrongdoing. Fitzsimons offered to be interviewed and to assist the DPP in any way he could.

Imagine Fitzsimons' shock then, when yesterday he received this letter from the DPP:


The DPP has taken the extraordinary step of taking over the prosecution, merely so that he can abandon it. The only reason given was 'it was considered there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.' The DPP didn't even bother to interview Fitzsimons or examine all the evidence he had.

Fitzsimons is now out in the cold. The DPP's decision means he can no longer pursue the charges, and he has no avenue of appeal. Fitzsimons practiced as a criminal solicitor for 35 years, so certainly has the requisite skills to proceed. He was not wasting the Court's time, there was a mountain of evidence involved and a prima facie case against the TAB. His right to proceed had already been confirmed by Magistrate O'Shane in an earlier strike-out motion.

Mr Cowdery's decision effectively gags Fitzsimons and suppresses all the nasty detail that would have come out in Court about the secret credit betting deal done between the NSW Government and the TAB.

Fitzsimons claims that the Attorney General has leaned on the DPP to keep the matter quiet. While this may or may not be true, there is certainly an appearance here that the DPP wants this matter buried, and buried quickly. Why take over a case, just in order to ensure it was dropped?

While the story of ICAC's uncovering a public housing official taking bribes in the hundreds of dollars makes it to the papers, efforts appear to be afoot to keep quiet more serious matters involving hundreds of millions of dollars and the NSW Government itself.

Mr Cowdery, if there was no reasonable prospect of conviction, why not let justice take its course? Why not allow the Court to make that decision? Why go to such extraordinary lengths to keep this matter out of the Courts and out of the media?

What is it that someone is trying to hide?

Were you offered or involved with credit betting by the NSW TAB, probably in 2003 or 2004? If you were, I would love to hear from you.
E-mail Andrew Scott

2007 Andrew W Scott

 


 

 

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