What are the odds a Wollongong teacher put forward cash in a tipping competition that ran out of his Year 12 classroom? Phil Saunders claims there was "not a chance".
The PDHPE teacher, who has been placed on alternative duties, took to the witness stand during his Wollongong Local Court hearing on Tuesday. He has pleaded not guilty to six charges, including engaging in gambling with minors.
Saunders said he allowed a "tipping competition" - which he claims was directed by a student - to take place in his HSC classroom during February 2021.
He said the Year 12 student wrote four students' names next to their selection of an English Premier League team they tipped to win on a whiteboard.
Saunders' name was included on the board, however he claims he made it clear that no money would change hands in the classroom.
"(The student) read out the upcoming weeks' games and the boys and myself answered who we thought would win the following week," Saunders said.
"I allowed (the student) to write on the board ... However, I did say 'There will be no money' very clearly.
"(The student) said 'Put money in'. I said 'Not a chance'."
Saunders said when he arrived late to class the following week, more names had appeared on the whiteboard.
"I said 'What's going on?' ... 'There better not be money involved'," Saunders told the court.
"Throughout the lesson it became apparent that students had put forward money.
"I said to (a student), 'This has to stop. Give the money back'."
Saunders said he later spoke to the male student who wrote the names on the whiteboard in private, where he told him he had reported the competition to the school's deputy principal, Bryce O'Connor.
"I could tell by his facial expression that he was shocked that I had reported it. He said 'No worries, I'll give it (the money) all back'," Saunders said.
Saunders denied he put any money into the competition and said he didn't see it being pooled in the classroom.
He said he never collected coins or allowed his desk to be used for the depositing of money.
A teacher with 30 years' experience, Saunders said he was aware tipping competitions had been used in classrooms before, as they can encourage "cross-curricular links between PDHPE and mathematics".
The court heard he sought a teaching guideline from the Department of Education after his arrest in March 2021 that showed how a mock NRL tipping competition could be used for educational purposes.
The hearing, before Magistrate Michael Ong, continues.
Read more Illawarra court and crime stories here.
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