To gamble, or not to gamble? That is the question. But the answer from legendary Australian gambler David Walsh is a mysterious one. Walsh claims to generate about $8 million a year as a professional gambler, yet he’s one of the nation’s strongest antagonists, vehemently opposing the act of gambling, especially on Australia’s most popular pokie machines.
David Walsh isn’t your typical Australian gambler, though. He’s quite eccentric, to be honest; a fact that shines brightly in his founding and operation of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, a.k.a. MONA, as well as the 2014 publication of his memoirs, A Bone of Fact. Oddly enough, it’s the funds he generates from gambling that have kept MONA alive all these years.
Who Is David Walsh?
David Walsh is, quite possibly, the most interesting man in the world. He is a contradictory in an of himself. He has what some might call a borderline spiritual connection with art, yet he describes himself as a “rabid atheist”. He gambles professionally, yet encourages others not to.
Born in 1961 to a Roman Catholic family, David was the youngest of three children. He grew up in the working class community of Glenorchy, a suburb of Hobart, Tasmania. An incredibly intelligent young man, he studied first at Dominic College, then University of Tasmania in 1979, where he delved into computer science and mathematics.
David is what you would call a savant when it comes to numbers. In fact, as a student, he became so good at counting cards that he was quickly banned from casinos all over the country. That didn’t stop him from gambling, though.
Walsh soon developed an enormously successful gambling system for wagering on sports and horse racing. The system worked so well that he dropped out of uni, as he was making a fortune as a professional punter. He’s since become one of Australia’s most legendary gamblers – part of a team known as the Bank Roll syndicate – and continues to rake in millions off wagers every single year.
His expertise in horse and sports betting finally caught up with him in 2012 when the Australian Tax Office (ATO) decided to pay his financial records a little visit. The ATO decided that Walsh owed $37 million in taxes, based on the use of his gambling system.
Walsh was understandably furious that the government would expect him to pay taxes on the millions he’d won gambling. You see, Australia does not collect taxes on a gambler’s winnings.
Gambling is seen as a hobby in Australia, not a profession. The government believes winners require on luck to make a profit, thus they tax the gambling operators instead. But since Walsh was using a ‘gambling system’, they decided his version of gambling was eligible for professional status, and therefore subject to taxation.
That matter was said to have been “entirely resolved” later that year, but how Walsh reached such a resolution, and how much – if any – he had to pay, remains a mystery. In 2014, it was reported that Walsh still had ‘undisclosed debts‘ to the ATO.
David Walsh, The Art Collector
Walsh’s passion for art has been evident for more than 15 years. In 2001, he opened his own art gallery; the Moorilla Museum of Antiques, on the Berriedale Peninsula in his hometown of Hobart. Then in 2007, he closed the museum to renovate the property. Four years and $75 million later, he reopned the facility as the Museum of Old and New Art.
In the beginning, Walsh said he didn’t care what anyone though of MONA. It was his baby, and his alone. In fact, he was rather irked by the people of Tasmania who called it “our museum”.
But David’s professional gambling habits are the only thing keeping MONA alive at this point. He said almost every dollar he makes gambling goes right back into the museum, which is losing $8 million a year, despite its success.
When statistics revealed MONA had attracted 1.25 million visitors from all over the world in its first four years of operation, his tune changed a bit. Now, Walsh wants more than anything for the museum to outlive him. Without David there to continuously win wagers and sink millions back into it, he’s not sure how that will ever happen.