Australia Could Make Operators Liable for Stolen Money Gambled

Posted on: October 27, 2020, 04:24h. 

Last updated on: October 27, 2020, 08:23h.

A bill soon to be introduced to Australia’s federal parliament would make betting companies liable to repay stolen money gambled through their operations.

Andrew Wilkie
Former financial planner Gavin Fineff (pictured) has admitted to stealing millions from clients to fuel his gambling addiction. (Image: David Maguire/ABC News)

The “Making Gambling Businesses Accountable” bill has been authored by Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, a longtime anti-gambling campaigner. It would give federal courts powers to force operators to return bets that are proven to be the proceeds of crime. Repayments would then go to compensate the victims.

The bill would also make it a requirement for operators to report customers to Australia’s financial crime authority, AUSTRAC, if they suspect funds have been obtained illegally.

Wilkie told The Sydney Morning Herald Monday that it is relatively common for problem gamblers to turn to crime to feed their addiction. Betting companies should be legally accountable, just as a pawnbroker is if they handle stolen goods, he said.

“We must have a legal mechanism in place that ensures stolen money is returned to victims by gambling companies if the gambling companies are ordered to do so by a court of law,” said Wilkie. “Gambling companies cannot be allowed to profit from the proceeds of crime.”

Life Destroyed by Gambling

Also backing the bill is Gavin Fineff, a 41-year-old former financial planner who has admitted gambling away AU$8.4 million (US$6 million). He stole a large portion from some 33 clients who had trusted him with their savings. He is currently under investigation by New South Wales police and expects to be prosecuted for his crimes.

“There’s 33 people out there that are seriously affected from my actions. My life’s destroyed. I find hope in these sorts of things, it’s my only pathway to healing,” he told Australia’s Channel 9 News of his motivation for backing the bill.

In the Doghouse

A similar compensatory system exists in the UK. Although not a law, the system relies on the discretion of the gambling regulator. It heavily fines operators that fail to spot red flags in their customers’ behavior or inquire about the source of their funds should they appear to be gambling beyond their means.

Often, the fine is just enough to reimburse the victim and cover the costs of the investigation. In 2018, Flutter Entertainment was fined £2.2 million for failing to prevent two customers from losing large sums of stolen money on its Betfair betting exchange platform.

One of these was Simon Price, boss of Birmingham Dogs Home, who embezzled £900,000 ($1.1 million) in legacy payments to the charity.

The judge who sentenced Price to five years in prison told him he had damaged public confidence in the charity and jeopardized its ability to raise the £1.8 million ($2.3 million) a year it needed to survive.

The court heard Price could not repay the money himself, and the dogs’ home would likely never get the money back. But it was ultimately reimbursed by the gambling regulator.