Screw gamblers, bragged Tatts boss - Saturday 16th of February 2008

POKIES giant Tatts has been rocked by allegations its former CEO bragged about "screwing" Victorian problem gamblers until he was forced to stop.

The claim against the recently retired Duncan Fischer was raised by ex-Tatts executive Phil Ryan at a parliamentary gambling licence inquiry yesterday.

"The chief executives response to the Governments concerns about problem gambling was that he was going to, and I quote, screw the problem gamblers for as long as he could until he was forced to stop by government legislation," Mr Ryan said of an alleged meeting with Mr Fischer in 2002.

An angry Mr Fischer last night described the allegation as untrue.

In evidence given under oath, Mr Ryan also claimed that Tatts:

HELD secret talks with rival pokies operator Tabcorp and powerful hotel groups to collude on the gaming licence renewal process.

DESTROYED internal data that identified individual problem gamblers because of fears of duty-of-care liability.

OWNED and operated its own ATMs to feed off gambling addictions at its pokies venues.

Mr Ryan alleged Mr Fischer tried to ensure the 2001 meeting with Tabcorp and other industry stakeholders was kept secret.

"At the end of the meeting Mr Fischer asked that all copies of all papers be handed back, and I quote: Because we dont want Alan Fels and the ACCC to find out about this meeting," he said.

"I was shocked at the proceedings and further discomforted by the compliance of the major industry participants to collude."

Tatts and Tabcorp bosses last night denied any knowledge of the alleged meeting.

Mr Fischer said Mr Ryans evidence was incorrect.

"I would never, ever say things like that. I dont know what hes talking about," Mr Fischer said.

The allegations come as Tatts ramps up its bid for a lucrative licence to operate half of the states 27,500 pokies.

A Brumby Government committee is poised to announce the structure of the industry post-2012 within weeks.

Opposition gaming spokesman Michael OBrien said Mr Fischers alleged view of problem gamblers as cash cows showed the Governments failure to regulate the industry.

"Labors probity bungles, special access for mates and failure to protect the public interest has shattered public confidence," Mr OBrien said.

Mr Ryans evidence included allegations the company had scrapped a poker machine loyalty tracking system after internal lawyers warned it could expose them to costly court actions.

"Instead of acting on the information and offering support for potential problem gamblers, our lawyers suggested we cut the electronic link . . . in other words, profits came before player protection," he said.

Mr Ryan, who left Tatts in 2002, appeared at the inquiry in his capacity as creator of Responsible Gaming Networks, a Melbourne company pushing for the use of biometric technology to tackle problem gambling.

Under the plan, punters would scan their fingerprint on a device and be restricted to daily loss limits.

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