Hollywood George Edser: One of the more perverse aspects of human nature is exposed whenever some force, be it natural or manmade, tries to prevent something from taking place. Regulations and prohibitions, from the manmade side of the equation, whenever involved in limiting something, only serve to increase the demand for that thing. Suppliers, looking to fulfill that demand and thereby profit, create a supply that readily finds a market.
One former British colony has failed to recognize this very basic human trait and has attempted to make gambling mainly illegal, or at least limit it to the greatest possible extent. The inevitable outcome of this approach meant that the illegitimate members of society, those less concerned with high-minded ideals of proper moral conduct, stepped in to fill the void created by well-meaning but shortsighted regulators. In the process of so doing, this former colony unwittingly fostered an atmosphere of crime and violence, seemingly out of nothing more than a desire to differentiate itself from its origins.
Another colony, Australia, took the more enlightened approach that it is far better to use human nature for positive purposes, at least in the sense of generating tax revenues for all manner of positive social outcomes, thus limiting, somewhat at least, the involvement of unsavoury criminal types.
It may be many decades and generations before the jury issues a verdict regarding the pros and cons of the approach to gambling taken by the United States compared to that of Australia, but by putting gambling out in the open, Australia’s non-punting members of society realized benefits, and a type of folk hero, that of the Big Australian Punter, was created.
One of these heroes was a colourful, larger-than-life type who was the de facto favourite of the Australian racing public during the decades of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s known as Hollywood George Edser.
With the frequency with which Edser appeared in the news accounts of the day, it would seem as though that would account for his Hollywood nickname, but legend has it that he earned it from a bookie whom Edser had taken advantage of during a race meeting in 1936 at Broadmeadow racecourse up the coast a ways from Sydney. That fielder, weary of handing over his loot to Edser, is purported to have said, “I wish you would go to Hollywood, become an actor and leave me alone.”
Never one to take half measures, Edser appealed to any and everyone who could relate to the concept of, “Make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss.” Edser’s heap, however, was quite large, so when he took to the track, the sums he plonked down were capable of inducing gasps from one end of the rails to the other. One such occasion saw Edser putting everything he owned, 22,000 pounds on Prince Marni, that went off at 4/9 against just two competitors. Prince Marni won, but only just. Edser’s stake on the one race enriched him by almost 32,000 pounds.
Unlike some of the other big punters who took a systematic, logical approach to money management on the course, Edser lived for the big plunge. He was quoted at one time a saying, “Money means nothing to me on a racecourse. I forget I have a family. If I have money I bet until every penny is gone.”
Another anecdote involves the time he had a big payday at Warwick after backing The Corsican at a race at Warwick. Anyone happening to be standing around the rail at the time was the lucky recipient of a 10-pound note from Edser’s hand.
Rumour had it that Edser was the front-man for illegal operators, which earned him intense scrutiny from the stewards at every track at which he made an appearance. That scrutiny, combined with an incident where he was ambushed and shot whilst returning home from a day at the track resulted in his being warned off by the AJC in 1958. Not one to be easily deferred from his racing fix, he frequently was seen using a ladder and binoculars to get a view of the action over track fences. Randwick officials once caught him using tall grass outside the track as camouflage for his surveillance efforts.
Edser’s bank was flush when he won 100,000 pounds wagering on Tudor Hill to win the Doncaster Handicap for the second consecutive year. That money was destined to reside in his pocket for only a short time, however, when Edser hatched the scheme to use his associate Frank Large to place something in the neighbourhood of 70,000 pounds of credit wagers on various races over the course of the Easter Holiday in 1962. Large and his wife had left for a jaunt overseas not long after Edser had cashed his windfall in the Doncaster.
By the time Large returned, Edser was bereft of funds, but still possessed a large reserve of the powers of persuasion, which he used to convince Large to place bets for him in his place, since his banishment prohibited him from wagering. For some reason, rather than placing the bets with reputable bookmakers, Large sought out the services of crushers. That did not alter the fact that when the races were run and Edser’s picks were out of the money, he had no ability to settle his debts, an event that was to become the biggest knock in racing history.
Eventually finding his way back into the affections of the AJC in 1974, he was a model citizen. His 13 year hiatus had mellowed his attitude to the extent that in 1983, he was granted the privilege of admission to the members’ enclosure at Randwick.
Ever the glib joker, Edser’s explanation regarding the honour was self-deprecatory. “I walked on a bottle and broke my ankle in three places. They carried me through the members’ on a stretcher.”
Edser’s proclivity to make headlines made him a favourite of the press, as did some of the epics confrontations he had with Big Bill Waterhouse, one of the few bookmakers who was not intimidated by the size of Edser’s wagers.