Years ago, senior high school kids would make a beeline to town in the summer holidays, looking for a temporary job in one of the department stores. Customers, lacking suburban mega-centres in those days, would come in droves to do their Christmas shopping. I did a year at David Jones, another at Farmers (now Myer) and then two at Lowes.
Lowes proved the more interesting. It was much more up-market in those days and I was able to specialise in men’s shirts, learning stuff I still use today (“Just feel the quality of that material, madam”). I found myself working beside Les, a 40-ish bloke with slicked hair and a pin-striped suit. He had a secret which emerged in the morning tea break. “I work here three months a year to avoid being taxed as a professional punter”, he confided. “Normally, I am doing the rounds of the dog tracks for most of the week”.
This was very impressive stuff for a youngster. He saw I was keen and so eventually he invited me to check it out. “Come out to Harold Park on Saturday night. Meet me at 6:30 by the third pole back from the finishing post and I’ll show you the ropes”. And so began my introduction to greyhound racing. That timing, by the way, co-incided with the announcement of scratchings and weights for the night. No TAB then, of course.
Anyway, Les marked up my racebook (a genuine racebook then – no form in it) and off we went to have a merry time and beat the bookies.
The point of all this?
Well, just the other day, professional punter David Walsh – wealthy enough to fund the huge and controversial mew museum in Hobart – announced he was going to fight a tax office attempt to book him for past income tax. He had two grounds; first, that he had often asked the ATO at the time if everything was fine (they said yes, he claims) and second, that he earned his money punting and so was not liable to be taxed on any profits.
Walsh is in partnership with Zeljko Ranogajec, famed for being able to screw TAB margins down to the bare minimum (see our article of 27 Feb), as well as a few others in what they call a punting “club”. It bets scientifically on everything and turns over more than $2 billion a year. They have hundreds of worldwide employees to help them, according to a report in the Financial Review.
By tradition and tax office agreement, personal punting profits are free of income tax. Lottery prizes, too. But there is another rule which says if you are running a business you are eligible for tax. So when is punting a business? My mate Les apparently knew the rules, which is why he made a point of having a “day job”.
It seems there is a line somewhere between what Walsh does, what Les did, and what Joe Blow with $10 each way on the weekend does. But where is it? And why did the ATO let Walsh get away free for so long. The ATO claims it has come by new information but that seems to stretch the argument a bit. The activities of the above partnership have been well known for a long time.
However this case is sorted out, it opens a Pandora’s box. Working out expenses for a taxed punter would be a nightmare. How do you verify losing bets made in cash? What of a trainer who also bets heavily? Is the Mafia involved (I’m not joking)? How do you define “professional”? How will it affect racing in general?
And what about retrospectivity – a disgraceful practice when it comes to rules and regulations? Walsh is being stung for 2006 tax. Still, the ATO does not lose very often and Walsh is certainly pushing the boundaries.
I have no idea how much Walsh bets on the dogs, but he does claim to indulge in all three racing codes. Certainly we need all the serious punters we can get, mostly to counterbalance the growing horde of mug punters messing up the odds.
Politically, racing authorities would do well to campaign to make sure punting is left as free as possible from further taxing – what the TABs take out is tough enough as it is. Besides, betting transactions and racing participants are already heavily taxed in other ways in both state and federal jurisdictions. It makes no sense to kill the goose that is laying those golden eggs.
Walsh can look after himself but there are thousands of smaller fish in the ocean who could be affected by a contrary ATO ruling.
So how would such a campaign get under way? Greyhounds Australasia does not venture into anything “commercial”, it says. Yet another quandary! But if not GA, then who?
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It was interesting to note the GRV publicity machine, currently in overdrive, mention that it has commissioned a public attitude survey in order to see how it is going. That’s a good step. The last time I can recall such news was back in the mid-1990s when Queensland GRA did the same thing. It may have happened since but, if so, the news has not emerged from any authority’s bunker.
And, when or if it is published, could GRV please post the results in an easily readable form? The fancy program which was used to display, for example, the last Strategic Plan had a silly paging device which made it frustrating to view, providing you could open it in the first place. The standard, good old zip file would do, thanks. That’s what everybody else uses. Even GRV formguides come that way.
Pretty is for art galleries.
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More on GRV, I note that the chairman of the board has not only been busy passing on news about new toilet blocks at Ballarat but has announced some new appointments to middle level positions in the office. I would have thought that was the job of the CEO?
Also, a close inspection of the Ballarat construction pictures showed no sign of the flashy new “grandstand” mentioned in another media release. There is a covered set of benches there, but that’s about it. Did we miss something?
The vision thing, Mr Caillard; we need you to concentrate on the vision thing!