Just like prostitution and brothels were in the late 70s, gambling anywhere but at a TAB was illegal and incurred a jail sentence. Yet illegal gambling was widespread, and a source of corruption and heavy standover tactics from the gambling club operators, including threats of violence, and actual incidents of fire bombings and vicious murders.
One such vicious murder was a gruesome find for fireys attending a house fire in the inner west suburb of Five Dock. Thinking the house had been empty when the fire raged through, completely destroying it, they were shocked to find a body under a bed that had somehow escaped the inferno.
The person’s throat had been cut, and they had been shot and stabbed multiple times. It was believed this was an underworld deal involving gambling interests. Someone did the wrong thing and paid for it. Or it was a clear warning to someone else that they risked the same payback.
[The TAB in NSW was set up by State Government Act in 1964, the Totalizator. (Off the Course) Betting Act, 1964, following the Kinsella Royal Commission into illegal off-course betting. It was estimated there were approximately 6,000 illegal bookmakers in NSW in 1963. Source]
Fourteen years after the TAB’s establishment, illegal bookmaking and gambling were still widespread. Gambling clubs ranged from ‘coffee lounges’ and ‘cultural centres’ — often run by Greek, Polish, or Italian migrant groups — equipped with a few pool tables or poker and bingo machines, to huge premises catering to large crowds with numerous machines, and continuous broadcasting of horse and greyhound racing odds over the PA.
The smaller clubs, such as Mr H Kospeta’s coffee lounge with three poker machines in Enmore Rd — which was shut down by Marrickville Council immediately after the Guardian reported it was still operating — and two others, operating as ‘refreshment rooms’ with similar small numbers of machines, were quickly jumped on by the licensing authorities, while the ‘big boys’ seemed to operate under police sanction, or at least an official blind eye.
“It is well known that particular premises are operating as gambling joints, and that some are run by big-time competing mobsters.
“Occasionally, the rivalry breaks out into open warfare.”
Gambling mobsters have cowed aldermen into silence
Following the Five Dock murder, the Guardian spoke to several aldermen and other well-known businessmen about the threat from gambling mobsters. However, most of those questioned seemed cowed, offering up excuses like “I have a wife and family”; “I don’t know anything”; “keep me out of this”; or cryptic comments, including “I’ve heard some funny stories”; “there’s some heavyweights around.”
The Guardian commented “It was perfectly clear they knew more than they were saying— but were afraid to talk.” One clearly frightened Marrickville alderman exclaimed “You want to get me circumcised?”
A week later, The Editor wrote one of his wonderful thundering rants about gambling: “Root out the crims!” I’ll talk about that in another post.
Big Boys vs Small Fry
Around this time, Tom learns from Inspector Daly, his police contact, that the big Newtown bombing earlier in the year was not down to Ananda Marga terrorists as he suspected (and rather hoped), but was just one bunch of mobsters paying out another. This is how he puts it in Big Boys and Small Fry:
…I’ve a hunch that the King St bombin was a distraction to confuse the security people tryin to solve the Hilton Explosion
. …Told him I know where there’s a coupla Ananda Marga operatives
livin in Queen St. He wasn’t impressed.
Said they were small fry, all piss an wind,
an wouldn’t know what to do with a bomb if they fell over it.
Said the King St one was a professional job…
an organised crime job—one scum mob payin’ out another.
Police corruption: collusion or coincidence?
In the following month, the President of the Newtown Chamber of Commerce, Dr J Messel, conducted his own survey of gambling clubs in King St, Enmore Rd, and Marrickville Rd., and reported his results in a long interview with the Guardian on September 13. He had spent a whole Saturday afternoon “peak SP betting time” and said he “was astounded at the brazen nature of their operations and the ease with which he had gained entry.”
He also clearly suggested police collusion, supported by the fact that the head of the Vice Squad had categorically refused to speak to him. “Obviously these clubs must have protection,” Dr Messel said, “if they are operating so openly and close to local police stations.”
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