Friends in Low Places

Cafe Reporter issue 1, June 2015, Jeff Bird

“During the decade from 1965 to 1975, there were reputed to be about a dozen illegal casinos operating openly in the Sydney area, but senior police consistently denied they existed.”

The media called them “colourful Syndey identities”. They had nicknames like Mr. Big, Mr. Sin and The Prince. In reality they were gangsters and they made millions from illegal casinos, mostly in Kings Cross and the Eastern Suburbs, during the 1960s and early ‘70s.

Stories later emerged that they had allegedly achieved this in partnership with some of the most powerful police and politicians of their day.

During the decade from 1965 to 1975, there were reputed to be about a dozen major illegal casinos operating openly in the Sydney area, but senior police consistently denied they existed

One of the most notorious gambling clubs of the era, the Forbes Club in Darlinghurst, conducted business with impunity, even though it was openly sign-posted and was located only metres from the nearest police station. One journalist who visited the club told of going into the kitchen for a sandwich and finding it full of boozing police officers.

In his book The Prince and the Premier, David Hickie quoted an underworld source as saying that NSW Liberal Premier Askin and Police Commissioner Hanson were each receiving $100,000 a year from one club alone. Apart from graft and corruption, the clubs were also a conduit for drugs, prostitution and gangland violence.

In order to tackle these problems the Wran Labor Government decided to legalise casinos in 1976, leading to the demise of the illegal clubs.

Alan Saffron, whose father, Abe Saffron, was dubbed “Mr Sin” by the media, later wrote a book in which he said: “The truth is that my father was a visionary and the founder of the modern entertainment industry, providing clubs, pubs, gambling and sex to the public – all of which is legal today”

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