No Good Singing A Duet

Sometimes things continue just because they have always been there. No particular reason, no review or justification. Place betting is one such. Frankly, it is a dead loss.

Several factors dominate. First, a good many races – about one fifth – do not have the eight starters required to justify three place dividends. Successful bettors will then get larger dividends, but only two of them.

Second, greyhound punters will seldom have much idea of the likely size of those dividends. For the average viewer, late betting habits and crowded calendars mean that only around half the eventual pool, usually in the $3,000 to $5,000 bracket, will be visible before he needs to buy a ticket. In turn, that means that the amount available for your particular choice will be around $500 or so – a third of the total. It will not take too many extra bets to radically affect the ultimate dividend. Surprises are normal and are never popular with either punters or gamblers.

Third, if there are any obvious “overs” you can bet your life that a shrewd operator somewhere will be sitting on the end of a computer, ready to press the button at the last second and knock the cream off the dividend.

Fourth, racing’s great uncertainty dictates that some of your choices will miss a place completely. Since most popular placegetters pay odds-on that does not leave much margin for error. For example, last Thursday at Sandown half of all place dividends were below $2.00, one third were below $1.50. At Albion Park on the same night 69% of them were in the red, 50% below $1.50. Those above $2.00 included many bolters which would have been very difficult to pick out.

Fifth, most of these processes are based on the gallops, where fields are bigger (averaging about 11) and betting pools infinitely larger. What works for the goose may not be good for the gander.

In total, place betting is pretty much a mug’s game for all but a handful of computerised professionals or dedicated amateurs. I suspect it has survived only because of patronage from punters used to the old days when some bookies bet each-way, offering one quarter of the posted odds for the place. You have little chance of getting that much back at the TAB.

Of course, even worse are those terrible Duets bets where you have to pick any two of the top three finishers. Each of those three pools will be flat out reaching a miserable $100 and you then have to share that with an unknown number of other successful investors. It’s just a lucky dip.

Duets originated years ago in some Tabcorp back office in Melbourne. They never worked in Victoria, nor when they foisted them on NSW later on. They are a complete waste of space. More importantly, they suck marginal turnover away from Quinella and Exacta pools which badly need boosting.

Both Place and Duet should get the sack and marketing efforts devised to popularise Quinella and Exacta betting. (For example, it is simple to combine three runners on your Quinella ticket and achieve a comparable outcome to that of a Duet bet. Your Place selection(s) can also easily be combined with one of the favourites in a Quinella or Exacta). Initially, that change might see a drop in overall turnover but once punters see they can get a better return the outlook will brighten.

Those TABs need the extra money, too. Tabcorp’s annual profit is down 63%, mainly due to lost poker machine revenue in Victoria but also to competition from international betting operators such as Gibraltar’s (ex UK) William Hill, which has just taken over the Tom Waterhouse online business.

William Hill’s CEO, Ralph Tipping, was quoted by Fairfax: “We are keen to take on comfortable monopolies. I don’t think they have a place in the modern world. Monopolies often mean weak management, weak performance”.

That’s true enough although Tipping might also allow that Tabcorp has to run thousands of shopfronts\across the nation, all of which are valued by consumers. It can’t just sit at the end of a telephone line and take bets.

Still, the problem may be getting much bigger than that. Current wagering takeouts of 14% to 25% compare poorly with most other gambling opportunities where the house is happy with 10% or less. Only lotteries take out more than wagering.

That was starkly illustrated in a recent report on gambling in the leading American greyhound state of Florida. The local News Herald reported the comment that “gaming establishments rely on cardrooms and slot machines for their revenue and to subsidize losing pari-mutuel operations”.

It continues, “greyhound racing is in serious decline” with betting turnover dropping by 67% between 1989/90 and 2011/12 while the number of races remained fairly constant. Thoroughbreds are even worse off.

Typically in America, state taxes on betting start at 20% and go up, a figure which is just not competitive in the modern world. It’s virtually impossible to make profits on that basis, which would be one reason punters are diverting to nearby casinos and tracks are closing down. Australian TABs’ heavy deductions also compare badly, but effectively provide windfall profits for online betting operators whose expenses are far lower but who pay out on the basis of TAB dividends. This is precisely why overseas companies have been paying huge amounts to buy out the Northern Territory companies.

The Florida state legislature will consider the consultant’s final report before reviewing its gambling laws later this year.

Australia can wait only for the formation of a national betting pool. That will help but it will not fix the underlying problem of uncompetitive takeout rates. The challenge is clear: streamline TAB operations or suffer a continuing decline in customer numbers and profits. TABs already cut the rates for big professional punters but they also need to think about the fans who keep the wheels turning seven days a week. In practice, the little guys are subsidising the professionals’ profits.

BUREAUCRACY WINNING SO FAR

My query to the ACCC about TABs creating imaginary high dividends for First Fours is wandering down the garden path. A very polite phone call advised they would let all their offices know of the complaint but that’s about it. They are not able “to investigate all complaints”, their spokesman says. Meantime Tabcorp and Tatts will continue misleading thousands of punters, not to mention the recent examples of the NT Racing Commission and Queensland stewards, presumably in the hope of attracting more business next time around.

The ACCC should have been at Wentworth Park last Friday when seven of the ten F4 dividends exceeded $1,000 but at least four of them were lies. A beauty was in race 7 when Tabcorp declared a dividend of $15,738 but it had only $6,062 available to pay out. A quick calculation suggests that someone had invested 40 cents on the winning combination, which is nice for them. But why not show the dividend for $1, as is the case for all other bets, and let winners work out their reward for themselves?

The TABs must find other ways of displaying betting outcomes without misleading punters.