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Court orders Sydney casino to pay jackpot belonging to disabled man – Consumer Law



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The District Court of New South Wales has ordered The Star to pay a disabled man’s $285,000 poker machine jackpot plus interest and legal costs after the controversial casino refused to do so in 2019 on the basis that an excluded person had assisted him to press the buttons. 

David Joe was awarded almost $320,000 last week after successfully challenging the refusal, with the judge finding that casino’s conduct was ‘misconceived and breached the contract’ of wager, and was therefore unlawful.

Winning the jackpot 

Mr Joe, who holds a Platinum Vantage VIP membership and suffers from motor neurone disease, asked his friend Lois Lie to help operate the pokie machines in the casino. 

The court heard that Mr Joe’s significant disability meant that he does not have the agility to operate the machine himself. 

Mr Joe testified that the casino had agreed that he could have a friend to help him to operate the machines, but when Mr Joe had $10 inserted into a machine (which the casino seemed happy to take) and won the jackpot plus other prizes, The Star refused to pay out on the ground that Mr Joe’s friend, Lois Lie, had signed a voluntary exclusion order in 2016, was therefore prohibited from the premises and not entitled to any winnings.

Instead of paying Mr Joe, the Star Casino paid the money into the Responsible Gaming Fund. 

Winnings withheld illegally 

According to Judge Montgomery’s decision, paying into the fund amounted to an unjustified assumption that the casino could retain the money. 

His Honour determined that Mr Joe was the one taking all the economic risk by telling Mr Lie which buttons to press and providing all the money being wagered.

The Judge ordered the casino to pay the original winnings, plus interest and legal costs. 

Money making machine

In recent weeks The Star Entertainment Group – which runs Star Casino – posted a full year loss of almost $200 million, which it has blamed on Covid-related closures. 

Prior to Covid-19, it consistently posted yearly net profits in the tens of millions of dollars, and now that the gaming licence for its new casino at Barrangaroo has been granted despite an ongoing probe into money laundering and Covid restrictions have eased, it is expected to prove to be a money making machine once again.

Accusations of money laundering

While The Star Entertainment Group can now operate gaming at its new premises, it is still awaiting the outcome of a review into its suitability to hold a NSW casino licence.

It also continues to be investigated by AUSTRAC (The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre), which is the government agency responsible for investigating criminal activity in the financial system.

In that regard, the casino is suspected of committing criminal offences under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (Cth), helping organised criminals to launder their money and thereby being complicit in the commission of further crimes.

AUSTRAC’s investigation is focusing on the 2016 and 2019 financial years, and recently widened to include casinos on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane. 

Wage theft

Earlier this year, The Star Entertainment Group was ordered to pay out around $13 million dollars to up to 2,200 casino employees after admitting that it had been underpaying workers for the past six years. The payment includes interest and superannuation contributions.

The cumulative conduct paints a damning picture of the casino as a greedy, unscrupulous enterprise. 

That said, its main competitor, Crown Resorts – which operates Crown Casino at Barangaroo – has a reputation that is not much better – it has also been under investigation for money laundering and wage theft. 

In 2019, The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), investigated the Crown Resorts VIP high-roller programme amid concerns that some interactions between Crown and the Department of Home Affairs ‘raise issues of corruption.’

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority’s Bergin Inquiry found Crown unsuitable to hold the licence in 2020 – it was only granted again mid this year, although it is a provisional licence which could be revoked if the operators fail to meet the expectations of a review that will occur again at the end of 2023. 

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