Flamboyant punter ‘The Professor’ wins betting fraud case
Professional punter Stephen Fletcher celebrated another win yesterday, this time against the NSW Police when one of the state's biggest betting fraud cases was thrown out of court.
Nicknamed "The Professor" for his ability to calculate odds, Mr Fletcher faced trial on 78 counts of fraudulently using the accounts of friends, allegedly including two cops, to place bets ranging from $9 to tens of thousands.
The high roller, who once pulled off a legal $1 million betting sting, needed the so-called "bowler" accounts because his own account had been closed by one of the online betting agencies, Bet365, and restrictions placed on him by another, Sportingbet, the District Court was told.
But Judge Sophia Beckett found the prosecution had failed to prove that Mr Fletcher had dishonestly obtained a financial advantage by using the accounts to place bets - because it still depended on whether the horses or greyhounds won.
It was an embarrassment for the police and the prosecution after a case that involved raids on the offices of the Homicide Squad, a hearing before the then Police Integrity Commission and a six-year investigation involving extensive telephone taps.
"The financial advantage did not arise until the horse or dog he placed a bet on won," Judge Beckett said after discharging the jury following a four-week trial and directing verdicts of acquittal. "There is no evidence the accused had any influence over that result. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost."
The flamboyant Mr Fletcher, 47, celebrated with friends including racing and sporting stars, at lunch at top Sydney eatery Rockpool with champagne and an up-market pork chop meal.
"I'm relieved," the prodigious gambler who pocketed more than $330,000 in winnings through the two-year scheme, said. "I am indebted to my legal team."
Before yesterday, his biggest win under the scheme came in February 2013 when he got $56,000 from a $1600 wager on Alma's Fury at Warwick Farm.
Judge Beckett said that at its highest, the evidence painted a picture of Mr Fletcher at the centre of an organised "cat and mouse" game between himself and the bookmakers where he stayed one step ahead, moving to the next "bowler" account when the bookmaker became suspicious. Bookies did not like it because they did not know from whom they were accepting a bet which prevented them from adjusting their odds accordingly or limiting the bets, the court was told.
Under Mr Fletcher's scheme, the bets ranged from regional races in Australia to overseas markets like Hong Kong and allegedly involved the accounts of one homicide officer, one officer from the Tactical Operations Unit and friends including Christopher Wylie and Edward Ridgeway, neither of whom have been charged.
Mr Fletcher's defence team had argued that the people whose accounts he used had given him authority to operate them and that the accepted practice was that corporate bookmakers accepted bets irrespective of who placed them including if they knew or suspected them of being "bowler" accounts.
The two police officers and another professional gambler allegedly involved in the scheme have separate trials coming up.
In 2005, Mr Fletcher and brothel owner Eddie Hayson famously pulled off the $1 million Lucy's Light sting, named after the winning greyhound, on the Gold Coast by legally manipulating tote prices to create an exaggerated payout price from corporate bookmakers.
In 2006 the betting partners won an estimated $2 million when they bet on the Newcastle Knights to lose to the Warriors.