Raki's jail sentence pleases pokie officials

STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 05:00 05/05/2013

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Industry figures say it is "astounding" that former Maori All Black Lindsay Raki has become just the first pokie fraudster to go to jail.

Raki was sentenced to a two-year, nine-month prison term last week for stealing over $300,000 of pokie money intended for his local high school rugby team - a case only brought to light by a Sunday Star-Times' investigation in 2008.

One senior pokie industry official said it seemed it was only that report which triggered a long-running Internal Affairs investigation.

In court, Raki's lawyer, Greg Denholm, raised the prospect of home detention, a sentence given to several pokie fraudsters, including former Kiwis league player Brent Todd, and to another offender in the same week, music promoter Jacob Samson, who will serve nine months at home.

Denholm did not return a call to ask whether Raki would appeal either his conviction or sentence.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey was "astounded" that, after years of pokie rorts, Raki was the first to be jailed.

"Too often in the past we have seen the courts regard pokie rorts as a victimless crime," he said.

"Unfortunately, a lack of real punishment has only encouraged more bad behaviour. I'd like to think this would discourage others, but until the fundamental flaws in the current system are corrected, I fear it . . . will continue."

A senior pokie industry official, who declined to be named, said: "Would this offending have been discovered without the investigative efforts of the Sunday Star-Times?" The official also questioned why the three pokie trusts which gave the grants were not pursued.

"More robust standards by those involved in providing the funds may have prevented this loss to the community, or at least minimised it."

Internal Affairs has privately lobbied for stiffer sentences.

"We're very pleased with the outcome," said the director of gambling compliance, Debbie Despard. "The result in itself says there are serious consequences for misusing community money."

Mike Knell, chief executive of one of the biggest pokie trusts, New Zealand Community Trust, applauded Raki's sentencing, saying he hoped it "sent a strong, clear message that rorts will not be tolerated". He claimed NZCT had reported several grant recipients to the Department of Internal Affairs.

But Knell said gaming was too often "put under duress from unsubstantiated allegations and innuendos".

His trust is involved in the ongoing "Operation Chestnut" inquiry into around $30m of racing grants made by several trusts, and the role of former publican and racing trainer Mike O'Brien.

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But sources say the next major DIA prosecution will also be triggered by a Star-Times investigation. In 2009, we revealed questionable behaviour around millions of dollars of pokie grants to four North Island trotting clubs and an Auckland-based pub chain, Northern Hospitality.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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