Woman addicted to game that ‘doesn’t pay real money’ stole £500k from employer

A woman has pleaded guilty to stealing $940,000 (£500,000) from her employer to fund her addiction to an online gambling game that doesn’t actually pay out real money.

Rachel Naomi Perri, 49, was charged with 25 counts of computer-related fraud and one count of fraud after stealing the money while working as an account manager at the Tasmanian Veterinary Hospital in Tasmania, Australia, between 2016 and 2019.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) it was only after she was made redundant in 2019 that “anomalies were discovered in banking transactions”.

The court heard that the 49-year-old made 475 fraudulent transactions during that three-year period.

Perri, who was the sole person in charge of managing accounts, was transferring the money from the hospital’s bank account to a variety of bank accounts, credit cards and personal loans in her name.

When interviewed by police in November 2019, she immediately confessed that she was guilty.

She informed officers that she had been playing a gambling game known as Heart of Vegas for the past four years and that was where all the money had gone.

Crown prosecutor, Simone Wilson, told the court: "It is similar to playing pokies and you shop to purchase coins or credits.

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"[But the] credit purchased never turned into actual money. She couldn't explain why she was playing that game when there was no return."

Heart of Vegas describes itself as featuring "real Vegas slot machines just like the ones you know and love".

In its terms and conditions, it says players "may be required to pay a fee to obtain virtual items" but "regardless of the terminology used, virtual items may never be redeemed for 'real world' money".

During the police interview, Perri said: "I got myself into so much trouble but decided I'd keep going until [I] got caught.

"I knew I couldn't get away with it. I was waiting for a knock on the door from police."

Perri's lawyer, Greg Barns, told the court she had a "lengthy history of gambling".

He told the court she "got herself into considerable trouble in the 90s", referring to the time Perri was convicted for stealing $7,000 (£3,800) in cash from her employer.

Describing Heart of Vegas, Mr Barns said: "You don't actually win any money. You have to purchase tokens and you get virtual coins that allow you to play the game and, if you win, you get virtual coins as winnings, but [they] can't be redeemed for any monetary benefit."

He added that the point of the game was to just "keep playing the game".

"She got so addicted that she'd play it first thing in morning," he told the court.

"She would set it up at night, so it played in auto. She was using this to such an extent that she'd again taken out multiple credit cards and personal loans. It turned into what is, admittedly, very serious fraud activity."

The veterinary services have instituted civil proceedings to try to recover the money, but Mr Barns said it was unlikely Perri would be able to pay back her former employer.

She has been remanded in custody to be sentenced next month.

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