Police take $50,000 gamble to catch pokie bandits
Megan Levy
February 28, 2012 - 7:53AM
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Police are offering a $50,000 reward to catch a network of bandits who have terrorised gaming venues in Melbourne’s northern suburbs in an eight-month spree.

The thieves have been armed with sawn-off shotguns and machetes and have masked their identities with balaclavas when they stormed into the hotels, threatening staff members and escaping with cash.

In some cases, the men have been wearing fluorescent work vests and a shot has been fired in at least one of the hold-ups.
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Police believe the bandits are responsible for up to 33 armed robberies at Melbourne gaming venues since June last year, and officers have formed Taskforce Sampson to investigate the violence.

The latest robbery occurred on January 11 when the thieves hit the Zagame’s Reservoir Hotel, but a total of 23 venues from Taylors Lakes to Bulleen have been targeted.

The hardest hit venue has been the Lalor Bowling Club, which has been held up five times since last June, with the bandits carrying out repeated attacks on the venue just days apart.

Police are investigating whether a robbery at the Glengala Hotel on June 20 last year should be included in the tally.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Sheridan said Taskforce Sampson had spent the past few months reviewing all of the robberies, and officers had charged a number of people with a range of serious offences including armed robbery, attempted armed robbery, common law assault and firearm offences.

The thieves are believed to belong to separate gangs that have common links.

Superintendent Sheridan said he hoped the $50,000 reward would flush out information about the thieves who are still at large.

‘‘We believe there are people in the community who are in possession of vital information regarding these armed robberies,’’ he said.

‘‘Police are working tirelessly to ensure those responsible for these armed robberies are taken off the streets. People have a right to feel safe in their own community and at work.’’

He said police numbers had been boosted around gaming venues in recent months in response to the robberies.

Police have released images from the armed robberies, as well as one CCTV image of a man who entered the Glengala Hotel in Sunshine two days before it was robbed.