The battle between the ATO and big punter David Walsh is over, according to a report in the Hobart Mercury: "I have entered into a confidential settlement with the Commissioner under which all of their tax disputes are completely resolved," Mr Walsh said”.
“He said no more comment was possible under the terms of the settlement. The object of contention centred on Mr Walsh's involvement with a gambling syndicate called the Punters Club, headed by his friend Zeljko Ranogajec, and whether its earnings were windfalls or business profits”.
You have to hate these confidential settlements. Now, no-one knows what the deal was or how it might affect thousands of punters all over Australia.
At face value, what Walsh and colleague Zeljko Ranogajec did in their Punters Club would normally make them liable for tax – ie running a business - but somehow or other their liability must have been watered down, perhaps due to a problem with retrospectivity. But who knows? That’s not a good look.
Equally intriguing was the massive support for Walsh from local politicians and the Tasmanian community which greatly valued his contribution to local tourism. The Walsh-funded MONA museum in Hobart is now the state’s greatest tourist attraction.
Of course, whether Walsh & Co benefitted greyhound racing, or racing in general, is a moot point. Their modus operandi is based on screwing down TAB deductions to negligible, or even negative, levels so they often made money even when their selections failed. The old government-owned Tastote itself was unable to make decent profits due to the weight of the Punters Club money. To some degree, everyday punters were paying for the Walsh discounts.
New owner, Tatts, saw no future in this policy and cancelled the arrangement when it bought out Tastote earlier this year. The effect that policy had on discounts for other big punters is unknown.
A Lost Opportunity
What small amounts of publicity the greyhound code gets is worth a lot when it appears in national media. But what turned up last weekend in a column in a national daily was peculiar, to say the least.
A single paragraph mentioned the upcoming Melbourne Cup for dogs - $350,000 to the winner - but three quarters of the column covered maiden heat and final series at two NSW provincial tracks. Could there be anything more boring?
These races are all very nice but the competitors have little form to speak of and would prompt no interest whatever from the general public. Trainers like them because they offer added prize money but, for genuine punters, they are a great yawn. Only a few insiders and the mug gamblers will support them.
This is an illustration of the code’s general inability to look outside the square, especially at a time of the year when the gallops are dominant in the media.
Still, it’s worth noting that the gallops sometimes don’t do much better. Recent weeks have seen a spate of odds-on pops go down in capital city events for emerging 2 year olds. Slashing form in barrier trials has not been repeated when it really counted. Not unusual with new talent.
The evidence suggest that greyhound folk are relying on the public to continue patronising racing the way it always has, regardless of what is on offer. To an extent, that is happening, but only in respect to casual gamblers, not to died-in-the wool fans. Betting volumes are erratic today, partly due to the fading influence genuine punters but also because of the decline of TABs and the rise in importance of NT bookies and Betfair.
But even the newcomers are a question mark. The online bookies are getting a reputation for refusing to do business with winning punters while Betfair’s influence is largely unknown as it refuses to supply aggregate turnover figures to anyone, including the ARB’s Fact Book, which is pretty much the bible these days. In both cases, these are short-sighted practices and hardly in the interests of the industry.
No doubt state authorities would know more but their annual reports are far too obscure to decipher who is doing what. Just trust us is the message coming through.
Which leaves us with the big questions. What profits could the code generate were it to mount serious marketing programs to educate the public and bring in more big investors? And have we got the product to sustain that new business?