Addicted poker machine user wants stronger controls to stop out Laurie Brown does not fit the picture of an extreme problem gambler.
She has a senior and successful academic career at the University of Canberra. She has a partnerwho stands by her, despite her losing $230,000 on the pokies, putting a massive hurdle in the way retirement plans. She understands statistics and knows the gambler loses. None of that stopped Prof Brown heading to the Raiders club in Belconnen three nights a week and losing sometimes as much as $1700 a pop on the pokies last year. Prof Brown and partner John Formby say no one at the club did anything to stop her. The staff knew her well she gambled regular hours, 10am till 4am, when she knew her partnerwould be asleep at their cattle farm more than two hours from Canberra. Clubs have a $250 daily withdrawal limit on ATM machines. But Prof Brown had four accounts, so could take out up to $250 from each. After that, she went to a nearby Kippax ATM for more money, but a staff member told her she could simply use the club's eftpos. From then, she handed her card to a staff member, and withdrew hundreds of dollars a night oaklet sunglasses at the counter to feed into the poker machines. Prof Brown, who doesn't drink oakleys cheap online and never bought a meal in the club, compares her vulnerability to pokies to a drug addict. Her first bender was in 2011 when she was living alone at Sutton during the week, heading to join her partneron the farm on weekends. She made regular late evening visits to the Raiders in Gungahlin, losing $30,000 before the bank alerted her partner. The disclosure sparked a crisis and a complaint to the Gambling and Racing Commission which declined action against the club. Prof Brown put herself on the self exclusion list which bans entry to clubs. The couple blocked her access to their daily accounts and for three years, she was safe. "Raiders Belconnen didn't ask me any questions. They just signed me up and that was the beginning of the slippery slope," she says. She played the pokies for a full 17 months, losing about $200,000 from the couple's retirement savings. Again, the bank eventually alerted her partner, in January this year. Prof Brown says her behaviour was that of a problem gambler devious and secretive, and "to this day I do not know what happened, why I went back". Mr Formby said he had felt protected by the restricted access to bank accounts and the self exclusion. "I felt terrible because it had all happened before and Laurie had promised not to do it again. So I had no idea what was going on. I was absolutely destroyed," he said. "How can somebody go there for 151 nights until 4am and spend all this money and nobody notices?" Prof Brown, who is telling her story in the hope of making a difference, wants better protection for addicted gamblers, buy oakley with stringent self exclusion, and intervention from staff. She wants withdrawal and spin limits, and changes to the design of poker machines, which "give the impression that you're close to winning". And the couple want the Raiders to take responsibility, pointing to the requirement for clubs to raise the alert about anyone for which a staff member "has reasonable grounds for believing has a gambling problem". Raiders chief executive Simon Hawkins said while the couple presented the club with a spreadsheet detailing her losses, the club would not refund any money, because he had not seen evidence the money was lost at the club and because it was Prof Brown's choice to spend the money. "We wouldn't be in business if everybody who came to the club, if the oakley store they did make a loss, they turned around and asked for their money back," he said. Prof Brown had shown no signs of problem gambling. She was "calm and relaxed, very friendly" and had shown no signs of distress, which could have triggered intervention.
The amount spent was not an obvious trigger. "At the end of the day there are some very wealthy people who like to gamble and it's not for me as an operator to say they're not allowed to." Mr Hawkins said while the club had not picked up on her previous exclusion, the system for recording and sharing exclusions had since improved so her case would not happen now.
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