The failure of a Wodonga cafe and $30,000 a month poker machine addiction led a Wodonga man to torch his business, causing $141,000 in damage.
Rocky Pereira, 39, had had an argument with his then-partner over his running of RM Fresh on Stanley Street before torching it in the early hours of July 16, 2018.
He had left his Charles Street home about 3.30am, parked on Hume Street, walked through a laneway while hiding his face, and poured petrol into an electrical room near his cafe.
Pereira lit the fuel and jumped a rear fence before returning to his home about 3.55am.
He appeared "shocked and surprised" when he went to work at 6.20am that day and quickly lodged an insurance claim.
The business, which he ran with his partner, was $16,409 in arrears and no rent had been paid since the cafe opened five months earlier.
Smoke also damaged nearby shop The House of Lingerie and electrical issues forced other businesses in the 13-site complex to close.
Pereira later told police in a covert recording he had kept his partner out of the loop about the business and claimed to have nothing to gain from the fire.
He was charged three weeks after the blaze and on Thursday pleaded guilty to arson, obtaining financial advantage by deception and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception.
His defence lawyer Julien Lowy said the 39-year-old was "feeling an enormous financial and emotional burden" at the time of the offending.
In a move the court heard was "incomprehensible", Pereira had recorded a conversation between himself and his partner a month before the fire where he talked of blowing the business up.
Before opening RM Fresh, Pereira had run a salad bar on Dean Street and took money from that business to fund his poker machine habit.
His gambling addiction had spiraled out of control after the birth of his daughter while he was working at the Dean Street eatery.
He lost $1000 a day and ended up $120,000 in debt.
His defence described his offending as "amateurish and clumsy".
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Pereira's phone tracked his movements during the offence, he was filmed by multiple security cameras, he removed stock from the business before the fire which was later found at his home, and took a Powerade bottle containing petrol back home.
The Sri Lankan national now works at Fallon Street Takeaway and for a Border motel business.
A jail term of 12 months or more would see him deported, and his lawyer has urged Judge Frank Gucciardo not to send him to prison.
Judge Gucciardo said his initial impression was that such a sentence was "probably a bit short of the mark".
"We're talking about a very serious offence committed in this way," he said.
He will be sentenced on May 7.
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