In December 2005, former Sydney greyhound bookmaker Steve Fletcher pulled off a well-executed coup. Fletcher was in partnership with punting identity Eddie Hayson, a larger-than-life character known to all the corporate bookmakers as a major customer, and thought to turn over $100 million a year. He had also come to notoriety though his ownership of the well-known Sydney brothel Stiletto’s, a favourite haunt of male sporting identities looking to unwind after a tough day at the office.

stephen fletcher
Stephen Fletcher

A six-dog race with a long odds-on—and seemingly unbeatable— favourite was chosen for the sting. Most of the corporate bookmakers operated at the evening dog meetings, as did leading Adelaide bookmaker Curly Seal, who bore the brunt of the cleverly thought-out deception.

Curly Seal

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Lucy’s Light was showing $1.10 on the Queensland TAB as the dogs were being loaded in the boxes; similar quotes were offered on the other two pools in Australia. Fletcher placed $16,000 on the other five dogs in the race; in a race that normally would attract only a small win pool, this was always going to alter the odds wildly. It was not until the race was underway that the extraordinary manipulation became apparent: the pool reached $85,413—greater than the combined hold on the other nine races that evening at the Gold Coast.

Bets were placed on the favourite all over Australia at Queensland TAB prices, being the home-state pool of the race meeting, and when the unbeatable Lucy’s Light flashed past the post the unbelievable win dividend of $13 was posted on the screen. The two other TAB pools provided a dividend of only $1.30, and carried investments of only about $13,000.

The group had $52,000 on Lucy’s Light with Curly Seal, exposing him to a payout of nearly $700,000. Seal refused to pay, and the matter was referred to the South Australian Office of Gaming. Seal eventually lost and was ordered to pay.

The group netted over $1 million in the Lucy’s Light coup. Within 18 months a smaller operation was pulled at Gawler dogs. A $1.25 favourite was backed on two of the other pools, enabling those behind the manipulation to get odds between $3.20 and $9.50 from various corporate bookmakers operating from the Northern Territory, who use a formula based on paying slightly higher than the middle of the three tote dividends.

A similar coup was unleashed at a provincial meeting in Horsham, Victoria, in January 2012, but the corporate bookies had reduced their exposure by implementing a ‘get out’ clause, which stated that if they believed that the betting pools had been manipulated there would be a tight cap on their payout.