AN ILLEGAL offshore betting agency last year linked to the Melbourne underworld is being closely monitored by Racing NSW and the federal government, through the Treasury.

CHRISTIAN NICOLUSSI reports that the Daily Telegraph has learned BetJack, a Vanuatu-based bookmaking business, has come under the spotlight along with two other operators in the tiny Pacific nation.

Several high-profile punters in Australia remain out of pocket, including one who deposited $50,000, got his account up to $200,000, only to be handed back his original $50,000 outlay and told "we're all square''. It is illegal for offshore bookmakers to operate on Australian races because they do not pay any turnover tax.

Australian punters who bet offshore are not protected - and not guaranteed their winnings - because local authorities like Racing NSW have no power to hold the operators accountable. Punters tend to bet with offshore bookies like BetJack in search of a top price.

BetJack was yesterday offering odds on the Hawkesbury races.

When contacted by The Daily Telegraph and told it was illegal to bet on Australian races, a spokeswoman said: "We are a Vanautu-based company, and we are licensed in Vanuatu, and if you've got an inquiry, you'll have to put it in writing.

"I've got no further comment.''

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'Landys said he was well aware of BetJack, and he had held discussions with government officials on how to stamp them out.

V'Landys was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia last Sunday, largely because of his efforts to take on the local corporate bookmakers and force them to pay turnover tax.

It was only after a lengthy battle that ended up in the High Court that the corporates were required to pay a 1.5 per cent turnover tax on every Australian race, and two per cent on ``premium races'' which carry more than $150,000 in prizemoney.

V'Landys has now turned his attentions to those operating illegally on NSW racing.

He said one of the government options was to make it a criminal offence for banks to deal with accounts that paid or received money from offshore bookies.

"If you can't transfer money to and from an account with an offshore bookie, you can't bet with them,'' V'Landys said.

"But that's just one of the options, and we are in discussions with the federal government about this matter.

"These people aren't paying to use our product. They're not licensed in NSW, so they're taking bets and not paying back money to the people who put on the show.

"But the big thing is the punter who isn't protected. It's a case of 'buyer beware'. If you're the punter and you want to bet with an offshore bookie, don't run to us when something happens. Why would you want to bet with someone who isn't regulated?''

It is a criminal offence in NSW to bet with an offshore bookie, and the penalty varies from a $5500 fine to 12 months behind bars.

The Herald Sun reported last year that Melbourne underworld figures allegedly had a financial interest in BetJack. One figure denied any links, but admitted to knowing the owner.


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