(Image: AAP/Michael Dodge)

Victorian Racing Minister Martin Pakula’s decision yesterday to allow hundreds of “connections” to attend horse races while the rest of Victoria remained in a slightly ameliorated lockdown — a decision hastily reversed after a social media explosion — is only the latest indulgence afforded to the animal racing industry by a government totally captive to it.

Whole industries in Victoria have been shut down to prevent the spread of infection; others, such as construction, which have had little or no infection, have had to significantly restrict operations. But horse and dog racing have been allowed to continue, albeit without crowds, right through the pandemic even as Victorians were subjected to a curfew and a five-kilometre radius for travel.

On August 3 Premier Daniel Andrews even omitted racing from the “non-essential” industries that would be forced to stop operating. In doing so, he admitted that horse and dog owners would butcher their animals if they weren’t allowed to race them: “There are some very significant animal welfare challenges there.”

Victoria is, by the way, the least safe state for greyhound racing: it is far ahead of other states in terms of greyhound track deaths this year, with 59 so far this year (which the industry racing body calls “retired”), as well as 453 major injuries. That’s on top of the thousands of dogs the industry admits are killed every year by owners.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox

By submitting this form you are agreeing to Crikey's Terms and Conditions.

Andrews handed the racing industry an additional $16 million in May as COVID assistance, on top of more than $100 million it has given the industry for prize money and infrastructure in recent years.

While Pakula was making his ill-fated decision yesterday, the fallout was continuing from revelations in NSW of the extraordinary failings of Crown — now the subject of a major money-laundering investigation on top of the ongoing NSW gaming regulator’s inquiry into its links with organised crime, its lack of money-laundering procedures and awareness, its wholesale lack of oversight by a board big on high-profile names but weak on things like basic governance.

A question that is only now starting to be asked is why, exactly, it is NSW that is carrying out the inquiry into Crown when it hasn’t even opened a casino in Sydney yet and the company’s main operations are in Melbourne and Perth.

It’s clear that the Victorian gaming regulator, the Victorian Commission for Gaming and Liquor Regulation, has completely failed in its most basic functions.

This is a regulator that hasn’t been asleep at the wheel. There is no vehicle at all, and the regulator is deep in a coma. As the AFR’s Neil Chenoweth pointed out today, the body has few staff and no powers.

Yet even as we learnt of Crown’s links with organised crime figures last year, Andrews defiantly insisted that the Victorian regulator was perfectly fine. “They’ve got the powers that they need,” he said. He dismissed criticism of the trivial fines the regulator had levied on Crown — $150,000 for poor record-keeping — by saying the “real punishment is about your record and your good name”.

The racing industry has its own links with organised crime. A 2008 review found organised crime was rampant in the Victorian racing industry and there’s little evidence things have improved in the 12 years since, which have included the murder of a syndicate-linked trainer, allegations of triad infiltration, stewards being fired at and about a third of industry participants believing the integrity of the industry had declined.

Yet the Andrews government continues to give it special treatment, even to the point of alienating an electorate already grumpy with persistent and increasingly unnecessary restrictions.