Searches for NSW poker machines, criminal links revealed in court documents
A client, a very successful real estate agent, developed a gambling addiction and ended up building a 7-Eleven store to feed the machines.
“In my experience, the financial motive is generally substantiated or predicted by gambling or drug addiction or both,” he said.
“I was trying to win money that day”
Richard Moananu killed an expectant mother and a teenager in September 2018 after he crashed into their car in Orchard Hills, west Sydney.
A court heard he went to St Marys Hotel hoping to “save” for his partner by winning money from the slot machines after his shift was cancelled.
“Are you planning on drinking?” asked a solicitor while sitting in Penrith District Court in late 2020.
“No,” Moananu replied.
“Do you know why you did that?” said the lawyer.
“I lost at the slots and thought a drink would calm my nerves.”
Moananu told the court he didn’t remember that evening — certainly not getting in the car after eight hours of drinking.
Witnesses later told police Moananu “beat it” and his driving was “the craziest thing I’ve ever seen” before pulling into the median at Orchard Hills.
He killed 23-year-old passenger Katherine Gordon. She was a week away from giving birth to twins who did not survive the crash.
“I lost at the slots and thought a drink would calm my nerves.”
Moananu also killed the 17-year-old learner driver, while the passenger, Gordon’s husband Bronko Hoang, was seriously injured.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter and one count of aggravated assault in NSW District Court.
The Court of Criminal Appeal reduced his sentence to 12.5 years last year. He is eligible for parole in 2027.
Addict attacked for jackpot
Charles Smith said he was a gambling addict who brought just $100 to the Quakers Inn to cut his losses, the Katoomba District Court heard in 2020.
He saved half the money for dinner and half for the slot machines, but couldn’t afford a round of drinks.
Smith borrowed $30 from his drinking buddy Thomas Moloney and minutes later hit a $7,000 jackpot, according to court documents.
Moloney told him to give up half the winnings, or “one out.”
Smith told the court he understood it meant he had to fight Moloney for the money, but hoped his associate would calm down.
Outside the pub, Moloney unleashed a brutal attack that left Smith with traumatic head injuries, cerebral hemorrhage and persistent memory loss. When police arrived, the $7,000 slot ticket was in Moloney’s pocket – he was trying to cash it after being released from custody.
Moloney had his sentence reduced to six years by the Court of Criminal Appeal for aggravated robbery earlier this year. He was eligible for parole in September.
$430 in 50 minutes, then “wild” murder
When Hanny Papanicolaou wasn’t cleaning houses she was a regular at the slot machines at some of Sydney’s biggest gaming venues – the RSL Clubs.
As of 9am on January 2, 2019, she lost $430 in less than an hour at the Canterbury RSL Club and was deeply upset as she drove to the home of one of her elderly clients in Ashbury.
Papanicolaou parked in nearby Peace Park before jumping the fence into Marjorie Welsh’s backyard – she was after money, the NSW Supreme Court later found.
Papanicolaou attacked her 92-year-old client in a senseless rage, hitting the woman with her own walking sticks before stabbing her.
Welsh fought valiantly for her life and told police from her hospital bed that she wished they knew why her cleaning lady had attacked her. She died six weeks later.
“[Papanicolaou] needed money because of their gambling losses; She knew Ms Welsh was paying cash and had more than enough money to meet her own needs,” concluded Judge Robertson Wright.
Papanicolaou is serving 22 years in prison, 15 of them without parole, following his conviction last May.
Dark Web MDMA After Slots “Distress”
Blake Kedwell poured all his wages into the pubs around the Hunter Valley, the NSW District Court found in the middle of last year, and was under considerable cash pressure.
He fought with his partner over his gambling, compounding his “financial distress.”
The courts determined that his way of making money was by importing drugs he had obtained from the dark web.
Police intercepted nearly half a kilo of MDMA in packages coming from France in late 2020 and traced them to Kedwell’s mother’s brick home in the suburbs.
“Financial issues he was having at the time [arised] from his gambling.’
Judge Ian Bourke
“[Kedwell] committed the offenses with the intention of making money to alleviate financial problems he was experiencing at the time because of his gambling,” Judge Ian Bourke said in May 2022.
Kedwell, 26, had mental health issues, but the only “likely link” between his mental health and crime was addiction to gambling, according to his psychologist.
The judge said it doesn’t condone or mitigate his crimes because drugs and gambling are “a choice.”
Kedwell was sentenced to four years in prison on two counts of attempted possession of marketable quantities of MDMA, and is eligible for parole in May 2024.
Church damage, stolen car after slot machine loss
Mentally ill former youth worker Stephen Luke believed he was part of God’s army.
He had planned to buy a car to travel from Griffith to Lismore in September 2020, but he wasted $900 on the slot machines, so he stabbed a 20-year-old woman instead.
During the five-day crime spree that followed, he lit a fire on the grounds of a Sydney Hillsong property and spray-painted a lewd message to founder Brian Houston on the church.
It ended after causing $1.3 million in damage when he tried to burn down another church in Lismore after the voices in his head told him to.
Luke is serving seven years in prison for a range of felonies including theft, assault with intent to rob with a weapon, and intentionally damaging property with fire.
He is eligible for parole in March 2024.
Gambling addicts stole thousands
Another longtime problem gambler who is no stranger to losing his pay on slots and horses, Tony Glen Hazelwood hid his bets to keep his wife from leaving him.
Hazelwood needed money to feed his habit, so he kept breaking into clubs, stealing thousands each time in a decade-long robbery spree.
Hazelwood was sentenced to seven years in prison for 65 similar offenses in Queensland in 2019 and extradited to NSW in 2020 for numerous club burglaries between 2006 and 2016.
Some of the NSW venues he sometimes repeatedly robbed were superclubs in western Sydney, where he pried open slot machines and ATMs with a screwdriver and pocketed thousands.
Hazelwood would then just gamble it away again.
His psychologist told the court there was a “link” between his drug and gambling problems, his mental health and his crimes.
The judge disagreed but said the gambling provided an explanation and context for his crimes.
Hazelwood was sentenced to six years in prison and paroled in August 2022.
Cocaine syndicate paid with bills
Kameal Bakri was a member of a dial-a-dealer cocaine syndicate paid in 2019 with either cash or poker machine tickets.
NSW District Court heard that in the raids, which brought down the crew, police found 10 handguns in a trunk, 95 grams of cocaine, a taser, $900,000 worth of luxury goods, $365,000 in cash and found $9,000 worth of pokie checks.
Bakri, who was never charged with the guns or the luxury goods, was a gambling and drug addict, the court heard.
“[Bakri] explained his involvement in the punishable conduct by stating that he was struggling financially and unable to support his cocaine addiction and also to support his gambling,” Judge Robert Sutherland SC said in his 2021 ruling.
He was sentenced to a 30-month intensive correctional order in July 2021 on one count of the shipment of cocaine and one count of the ongoing drug shipment.
The Reality of the Law
Judges rarely grant reduced sentences to people who commit crimes based on gambling or drug addiction, but they do accept that they can declare crimes.
For lawyer Abbas Soukie, the moral and ethical issues of gambling are the ones he and his clients struggle with the most.
“It’s a major social evil,” Soukie said.
“The promotion of gambling, even to the very vulnerable, is legal, legal, and even encouraged across the city and country, while drugs, which are also a social evil, are banned.
“That makes no sense.”
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