I once used to associate with a professional punter, the sort of bloke you’d see wandering into the Commission Room at Randwick or Warwick Farm, an unassuming fellow who had accumulated millions from his hobby, who might bet three or four hundred thousand on any given day and who supported at least a dozen ‘colleagues’.
He was a rare breed, not a systems player, although he used computers to arrive at an extraordinary array of punts on each race, but all underpinned by an immense knowledge of the form stored in a brain good for not much else, an idiot savant of the Sport of Kings if you like.
He’d had his battles with the Tax Office and won, they couldn’t tax his winnings because they wouldn’t credit his losses, but they didn’t know about his minions and the millions he has paid them in cash over the years to spy on the trainers, gather the inside goss, run bets to the bookies and a variety of other tasks. Income/Payroll Tax? Super? Workers Comp? Forget it.
He, and people like him, are among the many currently ‘suffering’ as the Australian racing industry grinds to a halt. And while we can have sympathy for some, the milliners, the stable boys, the caterers etc, all innocent collateral damage of an apparent quarantine failure, it’s difficult to engender any warmth for an industry that has always been a refuge for scoundrels and offers little of real value to our society.
Horse racing has acquired a classy frock, pays the government a healthy bounty, sells a lot of hats, champagne and turd-stain remover, but perhaps we should look closely at those ‘benefits’ and compare them to the costs, environmental, social and economic. In the next few weeks and months, Australia has a chance to try life without racing. There may be more food in some hungry little bellies. There may be a reduction in the bankruptcy rate. The vast majority of people probably won’t notice the difference. And think how many apartments you could build at Randwick alone.