ANZPT: Appeal over firing goes off the rails for 2010 Player of the Year runner-up

The player who finished runner-up in the PokerStars ANZPT Player of the Year award has lost his appeal to be reinstated after it was revealed he’d repeatedly called in sick from his job (and subsequently fired) so he could jet across the country in pursuit of the title.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald today, John Maklouf was sacked for his sick leave sojourns but tried to appeal against the decision to the NSW Transport Appeals Board.

Maklouf, who has amassed more than $150,000 in tournament winnings including a second-place finish in the 2010 ANZPT Canberra Main Event, worked as a duty manager at Granville station in Sydney’s west until he was caught out and fired for breaching the RailCorp code of conduct in October last year.

A judgment handed down by the Transport Appeals Board yesterday (Monday) shows that, in from April to November 2010, Maklouf went on sick leave five times, unpaid leave once and accrued public holidays to take part in seven poker tournaments. From August to November that year he took 17 days’ sick leave.

The tribunal found that, having obtained medical certificates from doctors for ailments such as “hip pain” and “stress”, Mr Maklouf then participated in poker tournaments on the Gold Coast, in Melbourne, Darwin, Sydney and, on one occasion, the Philippines.

After giving him a series of warnings about his absenteeism, Mr Maklouf’s bosses at RailCorp became suspicious and Googled his name. They discovered his “profile” online and the fact that he had won $37,910 at a Sydney poker tournament when he was supposed to be sick. About the same time, Maklouf came second in a tournament in Canberra, winning $63,766.

Soon after this he was described in one of our articles as one of the “contenders” in the ongoing race for ANZPT Player of the Year.
In his appeal to the Transport Appeals Board, Maklouf said that his job at Granville station had been highly stressful, and that poker “provided a release”, giving him “an adrenaline rush” and making him “feel good” about himself.

He said that he wasn’t faking his illnesses but as someone who was “driven by the need to play poker competitively” he had elected to play in the tournaments even though it was contrary to a doctor’s advice. The board rejected the appeal.

“Frankly the board is amazed that Mr Maklouf considered that it was OK to go off sick and attend poker tournaments when he had been advised by his doctor (based on what he told the doctor) that he was unfit for duty, yet he considered that he was fit enough to fly and compete in what must be a highly charged and competitive environment playing for potentially serious financial reward,” the board said in its judgment.

“The board acknowledges that not all sick leave taken coincided with poker tournaments … and there may have been indeed genuine sickness on those occasions. But when Mr Maklouf’s overall absenteeism record for 2010 is looked at (based on his roster and the leave records in evidence) his attendance was frankly abysmal and would have warranted some close attention from an employer in any employment situation.”

• In other news, PMA can reveal that the 2012 ANZ Player of the Year award is facing a challenge through Fair Trading NSW from a group of poker players. The players allege that the promotion is unfair on two grounds: 1) as a competition of skill, the promotion is required to be licensed in each state or territory in which it operates and promoted with appropriate licensing references and; 2) the list of qualifying events has been altered since the promotion was announced for 2012, rendering it manifestly unjust to players entering after the initial event.

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