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New Zealand launches TAB investigation

New ZealandNew Zealand’s Sunday Star Times reported Sunday that the country’s Internal Affairs Department is investigating the activities of several Totalisator Agency Board senior employees. The government agency, the newspaper said, has received reports that some senior employees used public subsidies to bribe pub owners.
he investigation is centered primarily on Rotorua video-poker trust First Sovereign and the Waikato Racing Club. But, according to Internal Affairs National Manager of Investigations Geoff Owen, it will also examine “irregularities in the (New Zealand Racing Board’s) invoicing system.”

At issue are several suspect transactions between regional TAB officials and publicans. These transactions were brought into question when publicans began alleging that TAB staff had offered to refurbish their pubs if they subscribed to racing-friendly video-poker trusts.

One example, investigators said, involves a Hamilton pub that switched its video poker subscription to Sovereign in 2007 and enjoyed a full TAB refit. Such attempts to influence pub owners’ pokie decisions are illegal under New Zealand law.

If bribery did occur, the Sunday Star Times said, it is due to local community groups’ awarding the most popular pokies with grants the trusts then give to not-for-profit organizations. There is immense competition between pokies for these grants, and according to New Zealand’s Problem Gambling Foundation, some $58 million of this money has gone to racing-industry organizations since 2006.

In itself, giving TAB a grant is not illegal. Rather, the Internal Affairs investigation is concerned with whether TAB employees bribed publicans to subscribe to racing-friendly pokies in order to receive more grant money.

Mike Brosnan of the Bendigo Valley Foundation, a video-poker trust, said a senior TAB official and an agent from an unnamed racing-friendly trust approached two of his trust’s largest subscribers. The two individuals, he said, promised the pubs’ owners refits worth $100,000.

Yet, as Brosnan told the Sunday Star Times, many pub owners do not report such incidents for fear of losing their tote equipment and betting access.

The Department of Internal Affairs said it was notified of such inducements eight months ago. As yet, however, no New Zealand Racing Board staffers have been released from duty.

“We’re keeping out of the way to allow (Internal Affairs) to go through the proper process,” New Zealand Racing Board Chief Executive Graeme Hansen said. “If there has been anything (improper done) by our employees we’ll respond accordingly.”

- Phill Provance
[email protected]