Ainsworth sues retired policeman - Friday 21st of October 2005

It was July 28, 1993 and Australian poker machine king Len Ainsworth had taken a posse of Aristocrat Leisure staff, including two of his sons, to a licensing hearing of the Nevada Gaming Commission. At stake was "hundreds of millions of dollars" of business.

Instead, the NSW Supreme Court heard yesterday, the Australians were told the commission had new information that needed investigating. One of Mr Ainsworths sons suspected NSW Police involvement after seeing a letterhead. By September, Mr Ainsworth had withdrawn his application for the lucrative licence.

The 82-year-old pioneer of the poker machine industry is suing retired senior licensing policeman Les Burden for defamation over a letter he wrote in early June 1993 to then police minister Terry Griffiths, voicing concerns about Mr Ainsworth.

The letter, and a report from the police which had been sent to the gaming commission on the eve of the hearing, was discovered by Mr Ainsworth after he applied for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

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AdvertisementMr Ainsworth said he was outraged when he read the report and letter.

"I thought it was a continuity of what I believed was a vendetta which had been going on against me for something like 20 years. I felt outraged, humiliated, embarrassed," he told the court.

But Clive Evatt, barrister for Mr Burden, claimed the police inquiry had been instigated before Mr Burden wrote his letter, following questions asked in Parliament in April 1993 by independent MP John Hatton.

Mr Evatt said the police report, which was raised by the commission during a later phone hook-up, raised questions about a former Aristocrat employee "who had an extensive criminal record".

He alleged that on Mr Ainsworths instructions, the man had contacted two US citizens with "bad reputations in the gaming industry".

One of them had been arrested for distributing poker machines and illegal lottery tickets, and his family had alleged organised crime links, Mr Evatt said.

But Robert Stitt, QC, for Mr Ainsworth, claimed the police inquiry ordered by Mr Griffiths was due to the Burden letter. The timing of the letter had been designed to do maximum damage to the Nevada licence process. "[Mr Burden] wasnt writing as a concerned citizen, he had a malicious purpose," Mr Stitt said of the former commander of the licensing investigative unit. Mr Ainsworth was subsequently cleared by the police investigation.

Mr Ainsworth severed his ties with Aristocrat Leisure and started a new company, Ainsworth Gaming Technologies, in 1997.

In one of the last defamation cases in NSW in which the jury will determine damages, Mr Stitt told the jury: "We dont ask you for millions of dollars but we ask you for a verdict which is capable of being seen as a vindication of Mr Ainsworth and his life."

The hearing continues.

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