Small But Perfectly Formed

The news that Tabcorp has bought up the ACTTAB – aside from local bookmakers, the sole betting operator in the nation’s capital – is hardly earth shattering in itself but it could be crucial to the eventual makeup of Australia’s wagering system.

The $115 million purchase of a 50-year license includes a guarantee to sponsor local racing by at least $300,000 a year as well as $400,000 to go to local community and sporting groups.

A key point is that the annual license fee will be only $1 million and there will be no betting tax on the tote turnover. That gives Tabcorp a low cost base and a possible weapon to use in negotiations with the Victorian government when that license comes up in 2024.

Meantime, one analyst has pointed out that “the company could effectively shift accounts to the low-cost ACTTAB without any change in experience for phone and internet customers”. Shades of the Northern Territory where Tabcorp already has a subsidiary – Luxbet – but does not run the TAB.

WA now remains the only government-owned TAB in the country but is tied to Tabcorp’s Victorian Supertab for pool purposes.

Tabcorp may well devote more time now to convincing the NSW government to allow it to combine NSW and Victorian pools. A previous application was denied by the NSW Racing Minister on the (unproven) ground that it would disadvantage NSW. That was a big loss for greyhound racing which continues to lose traction because of its small pools.

How that decision was justified is a mystery but more light might be thrown on the subject when the state Treasury finalises its report to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the greyhound industry. That is due by the end of the month.

SMALL IS NOT HELPFUL

Patrick Smith in The Australian has pointed out an interesting contrast between the smaller sports such as athletics and swimming on the one hand and the big time operations such as football, cricket (and, we would add, horse racing) on the other. The former lot have little opportunity to grab headlines other than when events like the Olympics, the Commonwealth games and World championships come up.

By comparison, the big sports get massive daily coverage from all the media, thereby providing the heavy publicity that encourages the public to take an interest.

Smith notes that in between Games, the small sports “make many decisions that are not scrutinised by the media”. In contrast, in the big sports “everybody is critiqued from the AFL Commission chairman to commentators and reporters. It happens every day of the year. It is (this) feedback that educates the officials”.

The corollary of this argument is that those smaller sports can get away with less efficient and less relevant administrations, hence the regular blow-ups in swimming and athletics, the latest being the sacking of Australia’s head athletics coach.

Greyhound racing gets no significant publicity unless something really nasty happens. Of course, when it does the media is free to make up its own versions of the facts because the industry offers no fall-back store of information, no regular spokesman, little general support and no authoritative national body to speak for it. Effectively, it has a non-image at best, and a poor one when one-eyed critics appear.

This alone is justification for some major organisational reforms.

SMALL BUMPS WILL DECIDE OUTCOMES

On display in state heats at the moment are most of the better stayers, en route to the National Championships. So far, here is what we have.

Queensland.
Favourite Wag Tail managed only 2nd spot after some battering while Hougenie bolted away with the race in a career best performance of 41.95. Previously it has not run out the distance well. In the other heat, honest plugger and favourite Mullaway could not pull in relative newcomer Rain Stream which ran a moderate 42.29. Only Wag Tail is a potential placegetter in the big one in Perth.

South Australia.
The only two reasonable stayers in the state took out the heats, Psychotic Gold in a fair 43.13, Token Mclaren in a poor 43.58. Hard to have.

Victoria.
The usual suspects greeted the judge in the four heats (all but one with short fields), leaving behind mostly ordinary competitors.
Mepunga Tiara ran a career-best 41.95, leading most of the way, but that will not be competitive in stronger races.
Zipping Rory ran one of its best races with a 41.70 win – only the second time it has bettered the 42 sec mark. Needs more consistency. Dyna Willow finished a handy second to Zipping Rory but it is hard to see much further improvement on its 41.81 run.
Sweet It Is showed it customary blinding finish but 42.12 is as good as it can do, so it cannot figure in the big ones, barring interference.
Xylia Allen did the right thing yet its 41.70 time is generally its peak over the long trip. It cannot afford any interference. The bitch has had far better performances over shorter trips. That pattern suggests it is a bit flat at the moment. Looby Lu had every chance but that was only it fourth distance race and it continues to improve. No chance on that form but you never know what the future will hold.

Some of the above assessments ignore form from last April at Wentworth Park when Xylia Allen smashed the 720m track record in a heat but petered out in the final. Dyna Willow had also done well there. I am inclined to treat those performances and times as an aberration as they have never been repeated and are better forgotten when considering upcoming races.

State finals are unlikely to throw further light on prospects as form is already very well declared. However, the final at Cannington will certainly be affected by the box draw. Inside is a big advantage over all distances at that track.