Greyhound Punter “Unlawful” Says NT Racing Commission

In a precedent-setting decision, the Northern Territory Racing Commission has ruled that sometime owner-punter Michael Brunker breached his obligations in the way he placed a First Four bet on a Maiden race at Ipswich last July. It also blamed his associates, son Matthew and Sydney identity Brad Canty, who conspired in the transaction.

The bets were placed in the last 30 seconds from a computer, known to be owned by Canty, which was also identified (by a separate submission from Sportingbet) as a source used by “dog rorters”. That particular claim was not discussed at the hearing.

The four-man Commission found that Brunker had “manipulated the betting pool”, “rigged the results” and was guilty of “collusion”. The eight-dog race involved first starters, one of which was favourite.

Two dogs, Finished Forcer (the favourite) and Octane Moment, failed to chase, later causing Queensland stewards to suspend them, while Brunker had placed multiple bets totalling $4,992 on the 624 possible First Four combinations of the remaining six runners. Brunker had prior knowledge of “slow trials” by the above dogs, the Commission found, due to Brunkers’s association with trainer Stephen Kutnjak, who operated from City Bound Lodge owned by Brunker. He bet only on the other six runners.

Ironically, the case came up only because Brunker had complained to the Commission that NT bookie, Bet365, had refused to pay him the full amount of $73,163 supposedly due on his successful bets. Instead, Bet365 had initially offered Brunker $4,992, barely covering his own bets, but later proposed a settlement of $25,000 to avoid further expensive legal arguments. Brunker refused both offers but has now lost his bid and is now lumbered with costs as well.

Bet365’s lawyer pointed out that Brunker had agreed to certain conditions when he signed up with the bookie, including that the bookie could alter settlements when pool manipulation or other illegalities were involved. The Commission agreed.

Bet365 also pointed out that it was under no obligation to pay out more than was in the total TAB pool on the bet type – in this case in Tatts, the “home” TAB.

However, some of those figures are complete nonsense. The First Four pool in the race was $4,720. After deducting the TAB takeout of 22.5%, only $3,658 would be left for distribution to successful punters. The advertised dividend of $14,632.60 is a figment of somebody’s imagination. To calculate such a dividend, it implies that a single punter invested 25 cents on the winning combination. Brunker’s claim was that he invested five $1 units with Bet365 and was therefore entitled to 5 x $14652.60 or $73,163. Had a correct figure been posted by Tatts, his claim should have been for 5 x $3,658 or $18,290.

The practice of Tatts and Tabcorp in posting these fanciful figures is deplorable and misleading, as we can see here. All other racing dividends are posted on the basis of a $1 investment. The Racing Commission has entirely missed this confusion. Neither did Brunker or Bet365 mention it, which is surprising.

A further mystery is that the Trifecta pool on this race was $8,676, only slight short of the Win pool of $8.986. This is an unheard of relationship and suggests that unusual activity was present there, too. In that event, and in addition to the First Four controversy, you might expect that stewards would delve further into it so they could learn who invested what. Apparently, that has not happened..

Separately, the conspiring parties also claimed that Bet365 had cancelled accounts for them and other punters at different times following too many successful bets but the Commission ruled that this was not relevant to the case.

A few years ago, a similar clash occurred when high profile punter and brothel owner Eddie Hayson and a partner executed a plunge on Lucy’s Light at a Gold Coast dog meeting after last minute manipulation of the Queensland pool. (Hayson is currently under fire for failing to appear at the Sydney steward’s hearing of the More Joyous case. He risks a warning-off).

Lucy’s Light price soared from $1.10 out to $14 after Hayson placed bets of $15,000 on each of the other five runners while simultaneously betting huge amounts on Lucy’s Light with several online bookies in NT and SA, based on the Queensland starting price. After the win, the NT bookies paid up reluctantly, while the SA bookie appealed to the state betting commission but failed to overturn the result.

(Disclaimer: purely by chance, the writer was in the Gold Coast betting area just prior to the start of this race and noted the sudden jump in Lucy’s Light’s price. Despite a sprint over to the nearest tote window waving a $100 note, he failed to get on as the race had just closed).

This and other cases apparently caused bookies to re-write their contract conditions, thereby allowing them to adjust payouts in the event of price manipulation. How that might be implemented had not really been tested until the Brunker case.

Coincidentally, what this case does highlight is the increasing popularity of First Four betting. Greyhound pools have been rising rapidly in the last couple of years, varying from a couple of thousand to over $30,000 at the last Sandown Cup meeting. But they are erratic, with occasional races at provincial meetings jumping from the usual $2,000 up to $4,000 or $5,000 and more. That indicates that serious punters, perhaps professionals, are taking an interest when they see a worthy opportunity. Those bigger pools bear no relation to the quality or importance of the race but perhaps meet criteria that the new investors have set up.

How those punters make their profits is uncertain as the dividends are equally unpredictable, varying from a hundred or so up to the thousands. Those same dividends are also “manipulated” by TABs, but no doubt they would call this public relations, hoping that mug punters would take an interest in such windfall dividends.

However, that aside, the First Four growth may well be a reaction to low Trifecta payouts, which have been poor and getting worse ever since Tabcorp started pushing Mystery bets. That trade, as well as the fairly common practice of buying a “box” of three runners, tends to over-emphasise favourites as one of the three selections. Consequently, winning combinations which include one of the two favourites will almost always pay “unders”, while those where the favourite misses a place will pay “overs”.

In either case, they are part of a long term trend which sees Win betting decline as a proportion of the total and exotic bets increase their shares. In turn, that is likely to be due to a bigger proportion of the betting public falling into the mug gambler category. Another factor would be a diversion of TAB business to online bookies due to over-betting on the favourite, or the inability to invest larger amounts without destroying the TAB odds.

Finally, what is puzzling is the relative lack of action outside that of the Racing Commission and the limited effort of Queensland stewards to suspend two non-chasing dogs. No obvious prosecution has been seen in respect to “fixing” a race, as such, although the Racing Commission did mention in passing the involvement of the police. Apparently, no-one has yet identified any fraud, despite the Commission’s findings of “unlawful” activity. So, was it a fix or not? The public is entitled to hear more about this. The same applies to the status of licensed persons and the use of licensed premises. Both Queensland and NSW jurisdictions are involved.