Clubs in pokie machine fraud probe

The Serious Fraud Office and the Department of Internal Affairs are in the early stages of investigating Otago and Southland racing clubs and organisations in relation to alleged pokie machine fraud.

The Southland Times has been told investigators have been speaking to racing clubs regarding a fledgling multi-agency probe into the alleged manipulation of gaming machine grants.

Investigators, one from the Serious Fraud Office and another from the department, met GallopSouth general manager Malcolm Little yesterday.

Mr Little last night said the organisation was no longer involved with gaming machine grants and GallopSouth was not in any trouble.

"They looked to me like they might be in the early stages of finalising evidence with the clubs and obviously with the SFO involved they have come some way down the track."

Investigators asked GallopSouth for information about any involvement with gaming machine grants but since Mr Little was appointed as general manager grants were no longer part of the portfolio, he said.

The investigators appeared to be making their way around racing organisations and clubs in the lower South Island.

Mr Little said he guessed investigators were putting all their information together to see if there were any cases to answer.

Southland Racing Club president Sean Bellew said last night he had not been approached in official capacity by investigators and was confident the club was beyond reproach.

The only gaming machine grants the club had received were those through the Invercargill Licensing Trust, which have stood up to public scrutiny for many years, he said.

"I'd be staggered and devastated if the Southland Racing Club had been in receipt of any ill-gotten gains, if that is what investigators are scrutinising."

Investigators arrived in Queenstown last week as part of the fledgling multi-agency probe.

Neither the Serious Fraud Office nor Internal Affairs would comment on the visit or answer specific questions about the probe.

SFO spokeswoman Andrea Linton said the organisation was not commenting on the matter and referred any questions to Internal Affairs.

Internal Affairs spokeswoman Sue Ingram also said the department was not making any comment or confirming where any warrants were used.

Internal Affairs confirmed search warrants were served as part of an ongoing investigation into the alleged manipulation of gaming machine grants but no information on the number or whereabouts of the warrants was available.

Meanwhile, two premises in Marlborough were visited by police as part of the nationwide investigation.

The Marlborough Express reported that Blenheim accountant and well-known racing figure Patrick O'Brien and his son Michael were issued with search warrants.

Mr O'Brien said he was surprised to have been raided, but said he did not want to comment further as he had nothing to do with it.

Department of Internal Affairs director of gambling compliance Debbie Despard, in a statement last week, said the joint-agency investigation was significant

"The Department of Internal Affairs has responsibility to ensure the integrity of the grants system in pokie machine gambling.

"The wider community is disadvantaged if one group can gain preferential access to grant funding from gambling proceeds.

"Where the department finds serious, harmful, and deliberate non-compliance in the gambling sector we will hold people to account."

The department's ability was enhanced by drawing on the specialist resources of the Serious Fraud Office, she said.

The Southland Times