What does the history of gambling in Victoria have to do with Greece? In a name, 89-year-old Nick Cecil. Cecil, a Greek-Australian, was Victoria’s first undercover cop.
In his heyday, he tackled the illegal off-course gambling industry when it was at its pinnacle in the 1950’s.
In 1955, the small squad known as the “Special Duties Gaming Branch” determined that more drastic measures had to be taken in order to address the bets made on horses by off-course punters.
They realized that despite hundreds of arrests, they needed to infiltrate the ethnic clubs where the corrupt gambling activities were taking place.
The team that was formed as a result soon became known as “The Incorruptibles.”
There was just one problem, however. Most of the Victorian Police was comprised of taller-than-average men of Australian or British descent, and did not fit in in the gambling clubs that were mainly made up of immigrants.
In came Cecil, who was of Greek descent and considerably shorter.
As recounted by theage.com.au, Chief Police Commissioner Mick Miller spoke of the need to have someone on the inside of the gambling world. In response, Cecil stepped up and boldly stated “I can get in.”
Victoria’s first undercover cop fit in well as a Greek-Australian
Thus history was written. Cecil joined the “Incorruptibles” and was sent undercover to baccarat games, posing as a punter and socializing with notorious gangsters such as Normie Bradshaw. Cecil blended in so well that apparently they did not realize that they were gambling with a cop.
There were other Mission Impossible-like scenarios that Cecil also was a part of while on the Special Duties squad. Once, the team was tasked with tracing a network of bookies.
In order to locate the crooks who received their daily odds by telephone from a pricing agency, Cecil hot-wired the counting device from a seized pinball machine and connected it to the telephone. The plan was successful, as the numbers being used by the bookies were recorded.
The crowd of thugs and illegal bookies that Cecil associated with remained oblivious as to the true nature of his work.
They enjoyed his company in the pubs, singing and drinking together. At one point he even dropped a hint as to his real identity as a police officer. As he sang in the pubs, Nick would belt out the lyrics to Platters’ classic song “The Great Pretender,” with a twist:
The lyrics go:
“Yes I’m the great pretender,
Just laughing and gay like a clown,
I seem to be what I’m not, you see,
I’m wearing my heart like a crown.”
However, in Nick Cecil’s version, he changed the last line to “I’m wearing that hat with a crown.” No one ever caught on.
Greeks in Australia keep traditions strong
Numbering over 600,000, according to recent estimates, Greek-Australians are the seventh-largest ethnic group in Australia, adding their culture, traditions, and language to the fabric of the country.