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Gamblers will find a way - in spite of the flu

By Stephen Hagan - posted Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Robert Anthony, US best selling author once said: “Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable than risk being happy.”

For the past couple of weeks I followed with great interest the equine flu controversy that literally brought the thoroughbred racing industry to its knees. Many commentators anticipate the cost of quarantining high numbers of horses to their stables to exceed $1 billion if the industry is forced to close for more than a month.

Everyday on the way to work I pass large electronic signs on the highway saying “No horse movement allowed” with a free call number further illuminated for the public to contact to report such activity.


So serious is the threat to the industry that Prime Minister John Howard announced an independent inquiry into the spread of equine influenza to horses in Australia.

Under this new inquiry former High Court judge Ian Callinan will have full powers to find out if quarantine standards were breached when the virus entered the country.

I first heard of this raging debate when media attention focused on a suspected outbreak of the virus at a national equestrian event at Warwick, 100km west of my home town Toowoomba, that didn’t particularly concern most Indigenous people I come in contact with and who rarely attend let alone participate in such an expensive hobby.

However, the following Saturday alarm bells were certainly ringing when sober punters, including many of my friends, entered their favourite pub TAB only to be told that betting was suspended on horse racing indefinitely at various venues in Queensland and New South Wales.

Alarm soon turned to angst as it became apparent that an innocuous cough and raised body temperature of prized thoroughbreds would totally interrupt their Saturday outing at their favourite watering hole.

The quote that best summed up the general mood of dedicated punters to this extraordinary occurrence was captured on the evening television news recently from a disgruntled tipster who said he had been attending race meetings every Saturday for 40 years and stressed that going to the races was like “waking up and having breakfast”, such was his religious devotion to the sport of kings.


As a reformed gambler of many years who has gone cold turkey on all forms of gambling: TAB, poker machines, lottery, keno, scratchies and so on, including not betting on the iconic Melbourne Cup, I was hoping this equine flu setback would convince some of my friends to give up gambling as well.

After talking to some of them I learnt of their initial thoughts of seeing the “horse meeting cancelled” sign on the TV monitor on day one as being a fusion of dismay tinged with an unmistakable feeling of despondency. But their shock was only momentary as the desire to win or part with their cash was evidently far greater than a need to reflect and contemplate giving the gambling game away.

Stories have it that my old punting pals gradually shook off their disappointment, collected themselves, and proceeded into the poker machine area of their pub for the rest of day to try their luck, with minimal success to report.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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