How They Play With Your Money

A reader has queried the source of my comment about Tabcorp altering Fixed Odds bets while the race is under way. I must confess I can’t find the reference at the moment but the issue came up during a blog discussion about punters’ FO bets being accepted or rejected. Several contributors were complaining about getting the amount of their bet halved and about slow processing of their “application”. Of course, this is why your FO bet at a TAB outlet often takes quite a while to accept, usually holding up customers waiting their turn behind. That occurs even for small bets because they have been placed in a clearing queue for the operator to process.

You see these complaints regularly and my policy is generally to make a mental note and leave it at that until more confirmation is available. However, in this case a “value” customer of Tabcorp’s also offered a copy of an email he got back from the operator which specifically advised him they knew the race had already started by the time they reduced his bet (the dog actually lost anyway).

When you place this is an environment where Tabcorp’s manual instructs staff to consider each bet for acceptance, reduction or rejection (we have a verbatim copy of those instructions) it gives you the obvious impression that the company is dedicated to making a profit on every race, no matter what. That climate or culture, call it what you will, is consistent with the above email advice to the customer. There is no question of making a “book” and taking their chances against the betting public. Add to that Tabcorp’s practice of offering FO prices or books of around 130% and you can then see the age-old principle of each party having a chance of a win is looking very thin. Those odds, please note, are not covered by the tote’s legal obligation to average a 16% deduction over the course of a year. It can get away with pretty much anything it likes to do.

There is another example of this sort of behaviour available in Tabcorp’s everyday practice of encouraging Mystery bets which include a boxed Trifecta. Not only do these attract high takeouts of 21% in NSW (25% when hosting international pools) but they are also guaranteed losers before the race starts. This occurs because the Tabcorp computer which assigns the three starters to each bet takes runners from each price bracket – short, medium and long – and each of those is, by definition, at a much different price. Yet the boxed bet assumes that each have the same chance. You are therefore investing as much on the favourite winning as you are on a 10/1 shot, which is mathematical madness.

When one of the favoured runners runs a place (it does not have to win) the dividend will be much smaller than the odds demand. In the much less likely event that the favourite misses a place, that dividend will be higher than justified by the true odds. Good luck as to which side of the coin you fall on.

I should add that tipsters are also prone to suggest boxed bets to unwary customers. That includes the Watchdog which recommended five such bets in the 12-race meeting at Sandown last Thursday night. Only one of those succeeded, paying a very modest $42, even though a $5.20 dog won the race.

Tabcorp, of course, has a tote monopoly in its markets, so excess profits from FO and Mystery bets serve to put some icing on the cake. It is also why the vast majority of gamblers will lose money over a period

It is little wonder that many folk are calling for better regulation of Australia’s betting market, starting with a national betting pool.

A Distance Too Far

Sometimes I wonder about my fellow punters. The betting shock of the week had to be at Horsham last Tuesday. It wasn’t so much the result as the price.

The evidence was already there. My earlier comments about 425m dogs (ie Bendigo) being a different batch to 450m dogs (ie Ballarat) were no better illustrated than when a short course flier, El Grand Seal, got caught near the post in its Ballarat Cup heat and then again in the Consolation on Cup final night. Sure, he has won at 450m and even 460m but not when heavy hitters are in the offing. Still, he has put up some good fights but by far his best career run has been a 23.50 at Bendigo. That’s his peak. After that, it all gets harder.

But nothing could prepare me for the trainer putting him in a 480m event at Horsham. This is not just a tough trip in one-turn racing terms, it also finds out many good city winners. They cannot handle the long home straight. There is no tougher sprint in the country. Yet here I found El Grand Seal sitting up in box 1 in a short field of solid if not spectacular dogs. Several were well capable of running 27.20 to 27.30.

Never mind all that. The Watchdog priced him at $1.30 while the market settled for $1.60 in both NSW and Victoria. Amazing, absolutely amazing. Not that it would be impossible for it to win but it had to be a huge task. And so it turned out. In the race, Hekatia Bale led the favourite out of the boxes but both got run down by the strong finishing Quick Kisses in an average sort of time of 27.37. El Grand Seal did his thing but even his top class mentor, Jeff Britton, must have been hoping against hope over this distance.

El Grand Seal had won only three of its last eleven starts and all those wins were over 425m or less. So, was the short price due to the Watchdog’s leadership (as often happens) or general pressure from punters on the day? Probably a bit of both but the whole process was very sheep-like.

Looking back over the weekend beforehand I found seven dogs started at odds-on at the three major tracks. Four won, including Zipping Willow and Winsome Mission which were no-brainers. However, an even dollar on each of the seven would have given you back $6.10 for your $7.00 investment. Taking odds-on is a mug’s game. The TAB takes out enough already without going down that road.

Happily, I took three Quinellas at Horsham and the winning combination paid $36.90 in NSW, mainly because El Grand Seal ran only 3rd. If only I could do this every week.

Meantime, distance is undoubtedly the greatest single leveller in greyhound racing. Add a false favourite and you are in business.