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School bully was also SP bookie who paid up when you won

Over coffee with some old mates last week one of the fellows brought up the subject of SP bookies.

If you don’t know that’s Starting Price and these bookmakers were once as ubiquitous as rabbits on a farm.

There was one in every pub, every neighbourhood and if you wanted to put a few bob on number seven in the sixth at Rosehill it was as easy as taking lollies from a baby.

Apparently there was an SP bookie operating out of the Marsdens family pub, Lack’s Hotel, way back in the 1960s and 70s.

The story is that upon finding out, a young John Marsden kicked up a stink and wanted the gambling demon evicted.

For me, this very Campbelltown yarn brought back memories of my first experience with an SP bookie.

It was 1968 and I was in my first year in high school, at JJ Cahill Memorial High School, which is in Mascot, pictured above.

I quickly learned that big Ross Tofalos, who unfortunately is no longer with us, was one of the school bullies.

But the week before the running of the Melbourne Cup I discovered that he also wore another hat: school SP bookie.

Cornering me behind the toilets and whispering, he asked: OK, Kontos, how much are you going to put on the Melbourne Cup?

For some reason he didn’t deck me when I said, sorry, I don’t have any money on me, but will bring some tomorrow.

Ross let go of me, saying, make sure you have money with you tomorrow.

Rain Lover: two Melbourne Cup wins in a row, 1968-69.

Which I did, 50 cents or something like that if memory serves me right, and when I saw the big guy went up and said, please put it on Rain Lover for me, thanks

The night before I did some quick research – in other words I read the Cup form guide in both the afternoon Sydney tabloids of the time, The Sun and The Mirror, and it was obvious Rain Lover was the horse to beat.

He won, and won again in 1969, and to my surprise Ross Tofalos paid out both times.

Now, so many years later, I can’t help wondering whether Ross Tofalos the SP bookie and John Marsden, the nemesis of SP bookies, have made each other’s acquaintance up there in the great merry-go-round in the sky.

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