A GAMBLING addict was jailed yesterday after she poured almost half-a-million dollars into poker machines over a three-and-a-half year period — money she stole from a winery where she worked at the time.Jennifer Anne Berrigan, 53, from Avoca, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison after she exploited her position of maintaining the accounts and payments for Summerfield Wines. In total, she stole $422,750 from the family-owned business.The County Court in Ballarat yesterday heard that Berrigan had used the money to feed her gambling habit, almost exclusively pouring it into poker machines.The string of thefts — most of which involved amounts of between $1000 and $2000 — began in late 2006 when she duplicated a payment of $750 from a Summerfield Wines bank account to her own.Crown prosecutor Justin Lewis said that after realising she had managed to get away with the theft, Berrigan began increasing the amounts and frequency of transfers, stealing more than $100,000 in each of the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. Even after she was fired in December 2009, Berrigan continued transferring funds by setting up direct credit from the Summerfield Wines bank account to her own. In the five months following her sacking she stole another $65,000.Prior to the thefts, Berrigan’s financial affairs were already said to be on the brink because of her desire to gamble, and she had multiple credit cards almost at capacity.For Berrigan, barrister Tony Lavery urged the court to consider exceptional circumstances because he said his client was the carer of her husband who had recently become ill. But his submission was ultimately rejected.“You don’t get an out-of-jail free card because of someone else’s circumstances,” Judge John Smallwood said.Mr Lavery said Berrigan had been diagnosed as having a pathological gambling habit and that she was surprised at how long the thieving went on before being caught. He said she was depressed at the time and had used gambling venues as “refuges from the unhappy aspects of her personal life”.But despite the defence submissions, Judge Smallwood ultimately deemed Berrigan’s offending to be a most serious breach of trust.“It seems to be pretty clear she was aware of the difficulty the stealing, at least in part, was causing (to the victims),” Judge Smallwood said. “It’s no better than going and robbing a bank.”The mother-of-two will serve a minimum of two years before being eligible for parole, after she pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft — seven of which involved six-month roll-over periods.Judge Smallwood also ordered Berrigan to pay compensation of $422,750.“Whether that will ever be met, I don’t know,” he said.