The scene is a Federal Court hearing room in Civic this week. It is used for commercial causes, so the public area consists of a few chairs along the back wall.
The judge has not arrived.
A good-looking man in his late thirties turns from chatting airily with his lawyers walks across to the other side of the court to a man sitting on one of the public chairs. He is an ACTTAB official.
“”My dear, Bruce, how are you?” the good-looking one says. “”I am so sorry we meet again in such strained circumstances.”
Some further pleasantries are exchanged.
The man returns to his side of the court, and then smiles at some television reporters and slides his way into a conversation about the weather. It had been snowing on the hills.
The man smiles, “”But it is beautifully clear in the day.”
He natters pleasantly to a ministerial staffer.
This is a man of considerable charm. His name is Daniel Kolomanski. He has an engineering degree, considerable skill in mathematical probability theory and he is a principal in the Vanuatu-based Vitab Limited.
His eyes are not blue like Paul Newman’s in “”The Sting”, nor is he as flamboyant. And he certainly would not entertain anything illegal or violent. There is no need to. He can do everything legally.
He is a mathematician more than a gambler. He looks for those rare occasions when the return is greater than the odds. Sometimes an overseas lottery might jackpot over several weeks and the prize pool hits $6 million, yet there are only one million $2 tickets. If you could buy the lot you must win. You can’t buy the lot, so you buy as many as you can because you are running better than the odds.
Or in a jackpotting Lotto, it becomes worth covering all two million combinations at 50 cents each if the prize is likely to be $2 million.
If you know a lot about horse-racing, you can get perhaps 105 per cent of your bets back on the TAB. If the Australian government and the racing industry did not take so much you could get 115 per cent.
Hence the idea of a Vanuatu-based company
Athol Williams was a trade union official and is a long-time member of the Labor Party. He is an admirer of Bob Hawke. He has had a long association, in a modest way, with greyhound racing. He is not a decisive man. He is quiet, almost timid. He is not the sort to make big decisions without a lot of thought and time to consider.
Suddenly, in the quirky way that party loyalists get jobs in the ACT, he finds himself chair of the ACTTAB board.
In the middle of last year, the persuasive Kolomanski gets the timid Williams and the rest of his board to sign a confidentiality agreement within 24 hours of broaching the subject and without getting legal advice. What else happened beforehand to make them do this we cannot tell. The confidentiality agreement commits them to secrecy over negotiations for links with an off-shore betting shop in Vanuatu.
The Minister is told of Vitab.
But circumstance and planning work well for Kolomanski and his co-principals. Normally a Minister and head of government department have a long and trusting relationship built up over many dealings. They know how each other work, so that what might be ambiguous or unsaid is in fact quite clear.
Alas, in this instance, the Minister has two portfolios administered by two departments. Sport is the lesser. It is administered by the department with which is has few dealings. The trust bond and understanding of modus operandii that comes from many dealings with its head has not had a chance to flourish.
And there is the confidentiality agreement.
The head of department is very sharp. A man known to look after his minister through hell and high water. A man with a track record of saving his minister from the many pitfalls of public administration and political life. But circumstance has neutralised this man. He is led to believe that the critical scrutiny of the deal will be done by others _ a task he would normally do himself.
The way is now clear. Kolomanski and Vitab sign a contract with ACTTAB on terms very favourable to Vitab, and with “”incredible” deficiencies on the part of the ACT, to use the word of the judge. It was a soft target. ACTTAB is locked in. Vitab _ a $2 Vanuatu-based company _ has access to a four-state TAB pool of nearly $5 billion a year, without having to pay the large governmental take that everyone else has to.
In tropical Port Vila in Vanuatu, a small office with a couple of PCs with modems springs into life. Money goes through nine phone accounts into ACTTAB computers in Canberra. And even more money goes back the other way.
Then the trap snaps shuts on ACTTAB. It has promised access to the superpool for Vitab, but Victoria threatens to shut it out unless it gets rid of Vitab. ACTTAB tries to, but Vitab calls in the law, just like in “”The Sting”, except this is the real law, and Vitab is acting legally. Vitab has ACTTAB between a rock and a hard place and puts the pressure on by getting an injunction in the Federal Court.
This is very hurtful financial pressure (see adjacent article).
All the way through _ provided the ACT fell for it _ Kolomanski was on to a good thing. The odds were lower than the return.
Now, the ACT must settle for a lot of money, or face losing a lot of money in court.
If Victoria had not pulled the pin, Kolomanski would have a very profitable business. If it did pull the pin he would have a very profitable law suit.
How does the music go in that thrilling horse-racing and gambling film?