08 August 2016
by Nick McKenzie
Jockey Danny Nikolic linked to new betting scandal with Sydney punterJockey Danny Nikolic (right) with partner Tania Hyett (left) entering court in June.
In December last year, a mysterious punter walked into a Sydney TAB and deposited $10,000 in cash into the TAB account of a young Victorian woman.
It was just one of several unusual transactions involving Tania Hyett's account.
Betting records suggest the punter, a "colourful racing identity", and his associates were accessing the account, having obtained Hyett's account number and PIN code, to place bets on horse races as large as $80,000, or to shift funds.
Hyett was in the dark about these transactions, but was known to racing authorities in NSW and Victoria. Her partner is jockey and Caulfield Cup winner Danny Nikolic.
Nikolic is fighting authorities for the right to race at the upcoming spring carnival after he successfully challenged a police ban over historical race-fixing allegations.
The mystery Sydney punter was also well known to authorities. Former brothel owner and controversial gambler Eddie Hayson had been involved in multiple betting scandals and owes millions of dollars to a raft of characters including drug dealers, footballers, jockeys, boxers, family, friends and a convicted murderer.
Along with Nikolic, Hayson hit the headlines again this year in connection with untested and vehemently denied claims that Hayson fixed two NRL matches in 2015. Hayson and Nikolic are close associates and the pair's betting activities are being evaluated - but not yet formally investigated - by the NSW organised crime squad.
The use of Nikolic's girlfriend's account adds another piece to a growing puzzle. It's far from complete, but at the very least reveals how big or notorious punters can easily evade betting controls such as the TAB's rule barring a person from using another's betting account.
The fresh information about Hayson and Nikolic also comes at an extremely sensitive time for those charged with upholding sports integrity in Victoria.
A Victorian judge ruled recently that the police decision to ban Nikolic from racetracks should be overturned because the jockey was never shown the confidential intelligence police relied on.
Police are now appealing the potentially landmark ruling, which theoretically opens the floodgates for dozens of gangsters banned by police from the casino and racetracks. Nikolic, meanwhile, has launched a fresh legal challenge in an attempt to get back in the saddle, potentially in time for Victoria's spring racing carnival.
The fight may ultimately force the state government to overhaul laws that give Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton the power to ban undesirables from the casino and racetracks.
While police refuse to comment on their battle with Nikolic, it's likely the force will use the fresh information about Nikolic's ties to Hayson, and the use of Hyett's TAB account, to bolster its case. Police are already relying on phone tap evidence and betting records to implicate Nikolic in historical race fixing.
Hyett's account is just one of multiple TAB betting accounts authorities suspect have been used by Hayson, Nikolic and a group of punters to bet in a manner that makes it much harder to monitor potentially suspicious transactions.
Evidence uncovered by Fairfax Media suggests that a small number of TAB staff may be acting improperly, or corruptly, to allow notorious punters to bet without detection, despite the risks to sports integrity.
One of the betting money trails linked to Hayson and now under scrutiny involves an NRL rugby league match between Parramatta and Manly in April.
Hayson's betting crew appears to have won around $40,000 on the game and then, several days later, used those winnings to bet on a horse race, accruing almost $100,000. From this amount, $2000 ended up in the account of NRL star Kieran Foran, who played in the Parramatta versus Manly match. The rest of the money was distributed to several middlemen whom Hayson uses to lay his bets.
Hayson will not comment on the specific claims, but a person close to him says the reason he and other big punters use third parties and supportive TAB employees is not to cheat or act illegally but simply to keep betting large amounts. The TAB has banned Hayson over concerns about money laundering concerns.
The ease with which the TAB's rules are circumvented is regarded by sports integrity experts as a major issue. This is also partly why Australia's money laundering agency AUSTRAC has launched unprecedented legal action against Tabcorp, arguing its betting compliance systems have dramatically failed. Tabcorp has responded by committing to reforms and insisting its system are already well managed.
Yet even today, concealing your identity while betting is as easy, according to one experienced punter, as "taking a piss".
Add to this equation a few sporting identities with the potential to get inside information about a race or football match and some colourful racing identities who are constantly on the look out for a betting advantage, and the risks become even greater.