Australian regulators have issued a casino with what is believed to be the largest ever fine for tampering.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) hit the Crown Casino Melbourne with a fine for A$300,000 (£160,000; $225,000).
What was tampered with?
The fine comes after regulators found numerous faults – from buttons covered up on slot machines, known as pokies, to “blanking plates” used on up to 17 machines last year during a trial program. The latter meant that gamblers were only left with options for a minimum and maximum amount. The regulator did, however, note that the breaches were not deliberate and the trial had not affected the ratio of returns to gamblers. It is hoped that the severity of the fine stops other casino operators from “varying machines without approval”.
Casino comes clean
The regulator said: “This is the largest fine the commission has issued to Crown and reflects the seriousness with which it considers the matter.”
After denying the claims for more than three weeks, Crown Casino came clean and acknowledged the tampering. In a statement last week the company said: “While Crown Melbourne’s position throughout this process was that the Gaming Machine Trial did not require the prior approval of the Commission, Crown Melbourne respects the Commission’s decision, which brings this process to a close.”
However, since the judgment, more news has surfaced from patrons who say they were given special ‘picks’ to jam the buttons on machines and thereby allow continuous play — something that is against gaming rules. This information was brought to the regulator’s attention by advocate MP Andrew Wilkie, who last year presented whistleblower statements to Parliament over the altering of machines.
The MP said the allegations came from a former player at Crown who wished to remain anonymous. According to the Wilkie, the woman would lose up to $30,000 (US$22,782; £16,328) on every trip to the casino, but the company then gave her multiple loyalty cards that allowed her to play several pokies at once. Despite Wilkie’s serious allegations, a spokesman for Victorian Gaming Minister, Marlene Kairouz, said it was inappropriate to comment as proceedings were ongoing.
What happens now?
Wilkie said: “Obviously if they’re true [the allegations], Crown Casino will have some very serious matters to answer, some very serious charges to answer because it is a crime in Victoria to illegally modify poker machines.
“If these allegations are found to be accurate, then I would be firmly of the view that the people who hold the license are not fit and proper people to hold that license and it should be taken off them,” he concluded.
In response, The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) said that picks were not gambling products so did not require approval. However, their use would be examined. The commission said that it would consider the information provided by Mr. Wilkie.
As for Crown Casino’s, their spokeswoman said that the casino would “co-operate fully” with any inquiries by authorities.
It remains to be seen whether or not pokie picks will be the latest scandal in Australian gambling, the country that loses more money per head than any other nation.