A strange hush fell over the Australian state of Victoria Wednesday night as 92% of the jurisdiction’s video poker machines were shut down at 11pm. The move was necessary to facilitate the transfer of control of the pokies from Tatts Group and Tabcorp to individual hotel and club owners. The companies, which had held a nearly two-decade duopoly over the state’s pokie biz, were given nine hours in which to collect the last of the filthy lucre remaining in the 27,500 machines formerly under their exclusive control. (Another 2,500 machines continued to operate at Melbourne’s Crown Casino during this period, as they are not changing hands.)
But as the sun rose Thursday morning, Tatts made good on its earlier threats and filed suit against the Victorian government, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars it claims to be owed in compensation for the duopoly’s demise. In a filing with the Victorian Supreme Court, Tatts demanded either (a) the return of the $598m it originally paid the state for its gaming license, or (b) $490.5m, which is half the $981m the government received when it auctioned off the new gaming machine entitlements in 2010, plus “amounts paid to the state following any transfers of gaming machine entitlements prior to Feb. 16, 2013.” Tatts generously offered to accept the lesser of the two mega-sums. Tabcorp has yet to follow Tatts’ lead, but it is expected to file a claim for $687m within the week. The Victorian gov’t has previously stated that its lawyers believe the state owes the two companies nothing more than a wave goodbye.
CONTROVERSIAL JOCKEY NIKOLIC BACK IN HOT SADDLE
Sticking in Victoria, Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna has announced an inquiry into race fixing allegations. While Perna said the inquiry “aims to identify systemic integrity issues across the three codes – thoroughbred, harness and greyhounds,” the police are reportedly looking into specific allegations regarding a race at Cranbourne in April 2011 that may be linked to the unsolved Feb. 2011 murder of Les Samba, the one-time father-in-law of jockey Danny Nikolic. Victorian and Queesnland racing authorities investigated Nikolic in 2010 over his relationship with a bettor but Nikolic was never charged and continues to race today.
Earlier this week, Fairfax media had reported that an unidentified jockey bet “thousands of dollars” on a rival horse to win a race in which the jockey was also riding. The Fairfax report quoted an anonymous source from betting exchange Betfair, who said a major investigation was underway into suspicious lay betting at over two dozen races. Betfair chief Giles Thompson issued a statement saying the company had “provided a number of betting records to investigative authorities. Contrary to what has been reported today, these records do not relate specifically to ‘lay’ betting nor has Betfair launched any investigation into lay betting activity.” Trainer Mick Price said he welcomed the inquiry. “This is a great industry for hard-working, decent people. I hope the people who are making these race-fixing claims now take the opportunity to put up or shut up.” The inquiry will begin Aug. 20 and run until Sept. 14.
SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM
Up in New South Wales, Health Minister Jillian Skinner has been tasked with explaining why the state did not extend tough new anti-smoking laws to the VIP room at Echo Entertainment’s Star Casino in Sydney. Star bosses had protested the idea that their Chinese whales would be prohibited from tipping their ashes while tipping millions onto the baccarat tables, for fear that said whales would swim over to casinos in other states that hadn’t yet banned the nicotine delivery systems. Such a ban would also put a serious crimp in Crown Ltd. boss James Packer’s stated ambition to build a VIP-only casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo development. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Packer himself was spotted milling about Parliament before a vote on the legislation was taken, and lo and behold, an amendment that would have included casinos in the legislation didn’t make the final cut. Ain’t politics grand?