Melbourne Magistrates’ Court has handed gaming giant Tabcorp penalties of more than $370K and is pursuing venues involved, over the case of an autistic teenager perpetrating a 17-month betting spree.

After enquiries revealed a 17-year-old placed bets at more than a dozen venues between May 2022 and October 2023, the VGCCC (Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission) issued charges against Tabcorp.

The court heard the unnamed child placed 36 illegal bets on Electronic Betting Terminals (EBTs) at multiple Melbourne venues, of amounts ranging up to $760, totalling $6K.

At stake were 72 offenses in total, around failing to prevent a minor from gambling (across multiple venues), and for failing to properly supervise its EBTs. These were rolled up into 43 charges, to account for where offending had occurred twice in a day and at the same venues.

It was reported the teenager sometimes entered the venues carrying the scooter he used for transport, and made bets at the terminals without being questioned or having any staff interaction.

A number of the venues – which include two TAB agencies – have already received penalties. ALH’s Preston Hotel was fined $15K, and the group’s Brunswick Hotel $7.5K; Northcote TAB Agency was fined $7K, Edwardes Lake Hotel paid $6K to the court fund in lieu of a fine, the Olympic Hotel copped $5K and Parkview Hotel $4K.

Still before the Court are ALH’s Albion Charles Hotel, Cramers Hotel, Doncaster Hotel, Excelsior Hotel and Rose Shamrock & Thistle Hotel, as well as Coburg TAB Agency and the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel.

Reportedly the child opened multiple online betting accounts and borrowed money, amassing debts reaching $17K.

The court heard he stole items from his mother to raise cash. She – who also cannot be named, for legal reasons – discovered EBT slips in his bedroom and attempted to stop his activity.

A month prior to the start of his spree, in April 2022, the mother visited venues in the area with a photo of her son, explaining that he usually gets around on a scooter and to be certain to not let him gamble.

He was described as lean, with a small build and looking young for his age.

Tabcorp distributed images and a description of the child to metro venues.

In court the company pleaded guilty to the charges, including failing to ensure a vending machine is properly supervised, but it offered in mitigation that it had suspended operations at numerous venues during an investigation, leading to a “significant loss of trade” for both it and the venues.

After the scandal came to light, the company is also said to have given ‘final warnings’ to several venues and required them to undertake further training.

The commission’s lawyers posed that it was a “systemic failure” that the minor was able to place bets at 13 venues through Tabcorp, often within adult-only gaming rooms, and sometimes interacting with staff. It was noted that the teenager was denied on 11 occasions.

His mother testified that after repaying her son’s $17K gambling debt she was forced to rely on charity to feed her family.

Last week Magistrate Brett Sonnet determined to not give Tabcorp a conviction, but fined the company $274K over the charges.

It was also ordered to pay $96,417 in legal costs and $6015 in compensation to the mother.

As a result of the case, in a bid to curb underage gambling, the VGCCC has ordered most EBTs in Victoria to be rendered cashless.

Since January the machines have been set to ‘voucher’ mode, requiring anyone placing a bet to purchase the voucher from an employee.

The Commission has deemed the events “incredibly serious” and reflecting what it says is a fundamental failure to protect minors from the risks associated with gambling.

“These failures undermine the integrity and safety of the industry,” declared VGCCC CEO Annette Kimmitt AM.

Reminder was issued that gambling providers and staff are “on the frontline” of the efforts to prevent underage gambling. 

“It is their duty to rigorously check IDs and supervise gambling activities to ensure minors are not able to access these services. Their vigilance is crucial in safeguarding young people from the harms of gambling.” 

The VGCCC notes it is committed to protecting the community and ensuring gambling operators adhere to the highest standards of conduct, particularly involving minors.  

“We will continue to take decisive action in upholding the safety and wellbeing of our community, particularly when it comes to children.”

Anyone concerned about gaming breaches is urged to call 1300 599 759 or report it via the Complaints and Tip-offs page.  

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