The Link Between Organised Crime and Horse Racing

Criminal organisations have long been drawn to horse racing. Whether they are actual fans of the sport remains to be proven, but horse racing offers them ample opportunity to ‘wash’ their dirty money and generate further income in the process. However, this isn’t the only type of crime that has been linked to horse racing, even though it is the most prevalent.

Here we take a look at the most well-known crime related incidents associated with horse racing.

Famous Busts in Australian Horse Racing History

  • 1908: Squizzy Taylor, one of Australia’s most notorious gangsters, tries his hand at being an apprentice jockey, but is busted trying to steal the watch and chain of a man at the Ballarat Racecourse. Taylor is jailed for 2 years as a result.
  • 1922: Taylor returns to horseracing as a punter at the Caulfield Cup carnival, but is deemed an ‘undesirable person’ and ordered to leave. Hours later, in the dead of night, the member’s stand is set ablaze but no concrete evidence can be found to connect Taylor to the crime.
  • 1970s-1980s: Prominent bookmaker George Freeman is consistently linked to organised crime associated with horse racing. He is only ever convicted of minor charges such as theft and minor illegal betting offences, but is named as a known ‘organised crime’ figure in several royal commission and the state parliament in connection with far more serious crimes such as drugs and bribery.
  • 1990s-2000s: the first Australian horse racing betting sites appear, offering those with nefarious intent even more opportunities for money laundering.

Notorious: The Mokbel Syndicate

In recent times, drug syndicates have featured more prominently in the world of horse racing and jailed drug kingpin Tony Mokbel is perhaps the most well-known example of all. Tony Mokbel and his brother Horty – a convicted drug trafficker – and others were all part of the ‘Mokbel Syndicate’, which owned several high profile racehorses during the 1990s and 2000s. These horses were bought with the proceeds of an ever-expanding drug empire, and gave the Mokbel Syndicate access to top trainers and jockeys.

Danny Nikolic, a jockey who was ultimately permanently banned from competing professionally, was warned by racing stewards several times about getting too close to the Mokbels after he raced at least 5 of their horses. Nikolic was permanently banned from competing in 2012 after threats were made and he has also been banned from a major casino in Australia.

Jim Cassidy: A Decorated and Disgraced Jockey

Jim Cassidy, a two-time winner of the Melbourne Cup, is a classic case of ‘didn’t learn the first time round’. In the late 1990’s, after returning from a ban for tipping about the horses he was riding, Cassidy started selling information about his mounts to Mokbel. The syndicate then used to the tips to further their betting success, all the while using horse racing wins as a cover for laundering money through bookmakers. Even though Mokbel suffered many major financial losses as a result of horse racing betting, just one win could give Mokbel what he desperately required: a ‘legitimate’ profit.

Tony Mokbel apparently still maintains a keen interest in horse racing from inside prison, and his brother Horty was recently exposed as using an online sports betting agency to shift millions of dollars of criminal funds. Horty has been banned from racetracks since 2004, which only proves that crime doesn’t pay!