Little threat to Nostradamus

Little threat to Nostradamus

It was Anzac Day on Thursday, and CBD paused to remember some of the business types who have sacrificed not their lives, but a fragment of their credibility by making predictions that turned out all wrong.

Spare a thought for ABC TV/News Limited finance guru Alan Kohler, who in December 2011 told readers of his subscription-only Eureka Report: "I believe the conditions are in place for another major panic sell-off on the sharemarket ... On Monday I will be significantly reducing my already reduced exposure to equities, possibly to zero." Since then the market's risen more than 25 per cent.

Doff your hat to former Future Fund boss and Alan Jones BFF David Murray, who in March last year said the carbon tax would be "very, very bad for this economy, particularly in terms of its international competitiveness". Fast forward a year and Murray was right: the tax has turned out to be a dud ... because it is unlikely to raise anywhere near as much money as forecast.

And think of NBN Co's Mike Quigley, who in December 2010 reckoned 511,000 homes would be connected to the super-fast porn pipeline by the end of June this year. This was downgraded to 54,000 connections in August last year, but by December only 10,400 homes had been connected.

How the cards fall

In the end, he didn't know when to fold 'em and walk away.

A man identified only as "The Gambler" has made a losing bet against the house that never loses, the Taxation Office, failing to force it to withdraw tax bills totalling $1.15 million. The ATO hit him with the tax bills over four days in August 2010, citing "numerous unexplained deposits" into his bank accounts in 2007 and 2008.

Not so, The Gambler said. He told the Administrative Appeals Tribunal the money came from "windfall gambling gains", which are not taxable income.

The Gambler hadn't had much luck in business since arriving in Australia from Vietnam in 1991. He'd tried his hand at a variety of trades - sewing, selling chickens, running a mobile phone and record shop, pawnbroking and building - but, according to AAT deputy president Stephen Frost, earned "at best, modest financial returns".

But his financial woes ended, The Gambler said, after a trip back to Vietnam in 2006, during which he and a friend discovered a system for winning at James Bond creator Ian Fleming's favourite card game, baccarat.

Apparently he had, in the words of Kenny Rogers' famous gambler, "the secret to surviving": "knowing what to throw away, knowing what to keep".

The Gambler claimed to have won more than $US4 million at casinos in Vietnam and Cambodia before returning to Australia in 2007, where he carried on his winning streak at Sydney's Star casino. "I was afraid that casino might think I was too good," he told the AAT. Although he couldn't remember how much he won, he said it was "a lot of money".

He was certainly a valued customer, pumping more than $2.4 million through the casino in 2008 and earning its highest high-roller membership level, "black".

Star's records also show he lost $169,000 at the casino in 2007 and won $464,000 in 2008.

Not enough winnings, the AAT's Frost said, to undermine the ATO's tax bill. "The taxpayer's proposition is also underpinned by the inherently improbable notion that he and his friend discovered a system for winning at baccarat up to 95 per cent of the time," Frost said in his ruling on Wednesday.

"He claims that their system is based on mathematical science, but it seems to me that one needs more than mathematical science to turn the sow's ear of complete randomness into the silk purse of virtual certainty."

Perhaps he should have heeded another piece of Rogers wisdom: "You never count your money when you're sitting at the table. There'll be time enough for counting when the dealing's done."

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