Pokie trust stands by grants to racing

A pokie trust under investigation by the Department of Internal Affairs says it is making "no apologies" for grants to racing clubs as it continues a fight to reinstate its gambling licence.

Blenheim-based Bluegrass Trust approved almost $900,000 to Southland racing clubs and GallopSouth from an overall grant pot of $2.97 million between April 2011 and March 31 last year.

Between April 1 last year and September 30 grants included $10,000 to Otago Racing Club, $100,000 to Invercargill Harness Racing Club and $100,000 to Riverton Racing Club.

In a statement, Bluegrass Trust chief executive Roebyna Bak, of Blenheim, said trustees took their obligations very seriously.

The trust had robust processes in place to make sure all grants were made properly and legally.

"Racing is a legitimate grant recipient and the trust has always been focused on supporting racing, so we make no apologies for making grants to racing clubs," she said.

Investigators from the Serious Fraud Office and the Department of Internal Affairs are visiting racing clubs and other organisations in the south as part of a preliminary nationwide inquiry into the alleged manipulation of pokie grants. Clubs and racing industry organisations legally receive millions of dollars a year between them in pokie grants.

Bluegrass has approved grants in the south for years despite not operating any gaming venues in Southland or Otago, which is also legal.

However, the trust's gambling licence was suspended in July last year by the Department of Internal Affairs.

It alleged loans were exchanged for grant agreements to specific recipients, some personnel were unfit, and false or misleading information was provided to support its licence.

The licence was reinstated while the trust's appeal against the decision was referred to the Gambling Commission and grants were approved as normal.

The commission rejected a preliminary application by Bluegrass in December on pre-trial matters and the trust applied to the High Court.

A High Court decision has not been made but the commission decision said Bluegrass had questioned the commission's jurisdiction to decide if there was any criminal breach.

Neither the SFO nor Internal Affairs will comment on the probe or answer specific questions about the investigation, which is likely to take some time.


Waikato Times