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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 13:10 GMT
Bookie pays for 'crooked punter'
Horse racing
Online bookmaker Sportingbet has been found liable for 1m after an Australian business executive allegedly went on a gambling spree with cash stolen from his employer.

Company secretary Dennis Craig Telford is accused of embezzling up to Aus $21million dollars (8m) from K&S transport to feed his gambling habit.

Mr Telford, 39, who was described in court as "having a weakness for slow horses", thought nothing of staking 40,000 on a single bet and on one occasion gambled nearly a million pounds in one day, it was alleged.

Sportingbet Australia was only too happy to accept telephone bets from Mr Telford - who also used other bookmakers - even though it knew the source of the funds, the South Australia Supreme Court was told.

Appeal planned

Sportingbet has been ordered to pay the cash back to K&S, which is owned by Australian trucking tycoon Allan Scott.

But the British company, which claims to be the world's biggest online bookmaker, has said it will appeal against the ruling.

In a statement, Sportingbet said it had inherited Mr Telford's custom when it took over Australia's Number One Betting Shop (NOBS) in June 2001.

It said the 1m, plus 300,000 for costs, would be treated as an exceptional charge in the current financial year and there would be no further cash impact on the group.

Sportingbet is refusing to comment further on the case ahead of the appeal.

Appeal

But a source close to the company said it had inherited a "few high rolling customers" when it bought the NOBS business.

These punters continued to bet with the business "over several months", with Mr Telford's bets adding up to a total of 1m.

K&S was seeking to recover as much money as it could from a "wide range of companies", one of which was Sportingbet, he added.

Sportingbet said it planned take the case to the highest court in Australia, if it loses the appeal.

The company's shares lost 3.5p, or 13%, at 22.5p, on news of the court ruling.

The company's shares plunged 25% on Thursday after it issued a warning that a sharp increase in the cost of processing credit card bets would hit profits.

It has also been hurt by a string of unfavourable results in UK horseracing and US basketball, but still expected annual profits of 14.5m.

Winnings

Earlier this week, the South Australia Supreme Court heard Sportingbet Australia had accepted bets from Mr Telford "beyond the dreams of any bookmaker in Australia".

Mr Telford, who earned 46,000 a year, did have some winnings, the Australian Financial Review reported, which he allegedly spent on cars, racehorses and property for him and his wife.

Mr Telford was arrested on fraud charges in April. He denies any wrongdoing.




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