Perce Galea was major owner of illegal casinos from the 1950s to the 1970s.
By the late 1960s were fourteen well-appointed casinos around the inner city where all sorts of people rubbed shoulders to play roulette and other games. The owners made huge profits, some of which was paid to police and politicians. When Ray Kelly retired in 1966, Galea was among the 864 guests at his testimonial dinner and referred to the deeply corrupt detective as “my old mate”.
Galea was born in Broken Hill in 1910 but grew up in Woolloomooloo. By the 1940s he was running a baccarat school in Kings Cross and later became co-owner of a string of the city’s top casinos, including the Victoria Club and the Fountain Club in Kings Cross. The most famous establishment with which he was involved, from 1967, was the Forbes Club, just off William Street across from the studios of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Up to 200 gamblers attended every night of the week.
Security was an important consideration at the club, with big winners escorted to their cars by tough doormen. On the rare occasion the club was raided, any fines imposed on guests would be taken care of by the management.
In 1974 Galea opened a more salubrious establishment, the Double Bay Bridge Club (there was a legitimate bridge club on the floor below), which had over 50 employees and boasted five roulette tables and six blackjack tables. It could fit 400 gamblers on the weekends, and turnover was two million dollars a week. Two years later, Galea moved the club to Telford Towers in Bondi Junction, where it continued to operate unhindered by police.
According to author David Hickie in the National Times and his book The Prince and the Premier, for many years Galea (the “prince”) was perhaps the most influential conduit of influence between the underworld and politicians and the police. He paid some $100,000 a year each to Robert Askin and Norm Allan. This claim in the 1980s was based on one or two unidentified sources, and no corroborative evidence of substance has appeared since.
Galea was something of a celebrity (certainly a “colourful racing identity”) because he shared the popular passion for horse racing, and was one of the city’s biggest punters. He dressed well and at the racetrack a crowd would follow him around and copy his bets. He was often happy to share his views: in 1962 he was interviewed on television and asked for his tip for the winner of the Melbourne Cup. He predicted the first three placegetters, correctly.
Galea owned a number of champion race horses, and in the garden of his Coogee house erected a statue of his jockey. It was a matter of some sadness that for 20 years the Sydney Turf Club and the Australian Jockey Club refused his applications for membership on account of his casino activities. Finally he asked Robert Askin for help, and soon after was accepted by both organisations.
As well as the races, Galea bet on boxing at the Sydney Stadium and engaged in an active nightlife, being a member of 28 clubs. In 1975 he told friends he’d been made a Knight of the Order of St John by the Pope, on the recommendation of the former Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Norman Gilroy.
Galea died in 1977 and the fairly successful career of his son Bruce provides an unusual instance of continuity in a criminal milieu where family has rarely carried much influence across the generations. Bruce was born in 1937 and was heavily involved in his father’s casinos, moving up to a leading role after Perce’s death. In 1979 it was alleged in parliament that Bruce had attended an underworld summit along with George Freeman, Lennie McPherson and Stan Smith. Bruce responded that he was an honest bookmaker and had no relationship with any of these men – apart from having sold his mansion “Dallas” to Freeman the previous year.
In 1982 the corrupt deputy police commissioner Bill Allen was investigated by the NSW Police Tribunal after complaints his personal expenditure, including overseas holidays, vastly exceeded his salary. He accounted for some of his income by saying it came from a win with bookmaker Galea. Bruce confirmed the 20-1 win and produced records showing it was the last bet he had taken on the race in question (ie. the details of the bet could have been recorded later – a common technique used by bookmakers to help criminals “explain” large amounts of cash).
In the early 1990s, Bruce was running an illegal gambling club in Chinatown and was regarded by police as the biggest illegal gaming operator in the state. Most of his clients were Chinese, which made it hard for Anglo-Celtic police to infiltrate the club. On one occasion, however, detectives were made up to look like Asians by a make-up artist at the ABC television studio and succeeded in getting into the club.
In July 1995 Bruce was gaoled by the Police Royal Commission for refusing to answer questions about paying protection to police officers. He served two years and three months – the longest period for such an offence – and preserved his silence. This was atypical: history shows most criminals in this situation have been prepared to provide information to the authorities rather than go to gaol.
Bruce Galea was approached for comment on this story when it was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, and he declined to say anything.
MAIN SOURCES: The Prince and the Premier by David Hickie; Can of Worms II by Evan Whitton.