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Racing identity, expanded to prominent or colourful racing identity, is a euphemistic expression often used by journalists (particularly in Australia) to denote a prominent or well-known person who is believed or rumoured to be involved in criminal activity, and who frequents horse or dog racing venues or is involved in some aspect of the racing industry.
The term gained wide currency in the Australian media in the late 20th century due to a combination of legal and constitutional factors, including:
- the punitive nature of Australian state defamation laws which, like their English models, tend to be heavily biased towards the plaintiff
- the absence of explicit Freedom Of Speech provisions in the Australian Constitution and
- the lack in Australian law of any legal provision or precedent like that in United States law which makes truth an absolute defence in defamation cases.
The association between organised crime and racing (especially horse racing) in Australia developed largely because of the conservative nature of Australian law and government in regard to gambling. In the decades before the recent liberalisation of the laws governing poker machines, casinos and other forms of gambling, betting on horse and greyhound racing was the only legal outlet for gambling in Australia (other than government-run lotteries).
As a result, horse racing (and to a lesser extent dog racing) provided one of the few legitimate means by which those involved in organised crime could easily 'launder' money earned from their illegal enterprises. Because betting with on-track bookmakers could not be easily scrutinised by law enforcement or taxation authorities, it was relatively easy for such people to claim that any large sums of money they might possess had been won on a lucky bet, and it was extremely difficult for the authorities to prove otherwise.
An example of this phenomenon can be found in the case of the former NSW Premier Robert Askin, who is widely reputed to have been at the centre of an extensive network of organised crime and official corruption, and who allegedly received tens of thousands of dollars each month in bribes from major Sydney underworld figures. Despite the fact that official inquiries uncovered assets far in excess of what he could have reasonably earned through investments and stock trading, Askin always claimed that his wealth was because he was a "canny punter" (i.e. a shrewd gambler).
Likewise, because on-track betting transactions could not be monitored as they could in the government-run betting agencies (e.g. the TAB), major racecourses became favoured meeting places for many of the people who are now generally accepted to have been leading figures in Australian organised crime, such as George Freeman, Perc Galea and Lenny McPherson.
- Bolt, Andrew (17 April 2011). "PM twists words to sell carbon tax". The Courier Mail. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- Cowie, Tom (14 Dec 2012). "Crikey quiz! Know your colorful racing identities, a tabloid teaser test". Crikey. Retrieved 11 June 2016.