The manager of a grand old historic hotel in the heart of South Australia’s premium wine district has been convicted of collecting more than AUD 52,000 in winnings from the hotel’s own gaming machines – after the court rejected his claim that he was just playing the machines to pass time while waiting for tea-towels to dry.
In the first prosecution of its kind in South Australia, the McLaren Vale hotelier was handed down a suspended prison sentence for breaches of the Gaming Machines Act.
In the Christies Beach Magistrates Court, 71-year-old Robert William Appelkamp of Willunga admitted to 16 breaches of the Act which were representative of a course of conduct spanning 12 months.
The Court heard that, on 103 occasions, Appelkamp – who was co-director, hotel manager and gaming manager of the Hotel McLaren – played the hotel’s machines after closing hours, collecting a total of AUD 52,672.59 in winnings.
Under the Act, it’s illegal for gaming managers, gaming employees and directors of companies who hold a gaming machine licence to play their own gaming machines, given they could capitalise on their knowledge of their machines to exploit the system and play at a time when machines were likely to pay out.
The offending was reported to South Australia’s Consumer and Business Services in 2016 after a patron discovered that a jackpot had been won overnight, while the hotel had been closed.
The court heard Appelkamp’s offending involved a significant degree of dishonesty – falsifying handpay receipts with different times to conceal his offending by making it look like a patron had collected the winnings during hotel hours and, after winning a AUD 10,000 jackpot, he played the credits down to AUD 9993 to avoid completing anti-money laundering documentation that would have required the production of photo ID.
In sentencing, Magistrate Susan O’Connor said Appelkamp had “deliberately covered his tracks”, and taken advantage of the insider knowledge he had gained as the Hotel McLaren’s gaming manager.
Ms O’Connor said it was “difficult to imagine a more serious example” of this type of offending, in terms of Appelkamp’s dereliction of duty and failure to comply with the regulatory laws.
While Appelkamp had argued he was playing the machines to pass time while waiting for tea towels to dry, Ms O’Connor rejected that submission – saying the evidence showed systemic fraud that was motivated by greed, since he had only ever cashed in winnings worth more than AUD 200.
Ms O’Connor said that while staff knew about Appelkamp’s offending, they were fearful of losing their job if they did anything, given his daughter was the hotel’s owner, and he was the hotel’s manager and co-director.
Commissioner for Liquor and Gambling Dini Soulio said the matter was a serious breach.
“People who run venues with gaming machines are expected to abide by the rules and not seek to exploit the system for their own personal gain,” he said.
“I would hope this matter would serve as a deterrent to those who work in the liquor and gambling industry who may seek to engage in this kind of conduct.”
Ms O’Connor sentenced Appelkamp to two months imprisonment, noting the seriousness of the offence and the need for a deterrent message to the industry.
She suspended the sentence on the condition that Appelkamp is to be of good behaviour for the next 12 months, and that he does not enter the gaming room at the Hotel McLaren in that time.
Edited by Peter Needham
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