Tabcorp holds the key to progress – if any

TABCORP boss David Attenborough wants to thank all those folk who have switched to Fixed Odds betting in the last financial year. They were a big help in earning him a bigger profit – up 158% to $334.5 million, of which wagering and media accounted for $247.2 million. Well, he did not actually say that but it is obvious as Tabcorp takes a 10 points bigger cut out of Fixed Odds bets, compared with the normal tote.

Fixed Odds now attracts just over a quarter of all Tabcorp betting, with turnover in 2014/15 increasing by 33% over the previous year. At the same time traditional tote business fell by 2%, which is no great help to greyhound racing as its pools were already uncomfortably small. But, for Tabcorp, that combination means it is now gaining a higher profit per race.

Revenue from Sports betting, the Trackside computer and Luxbet accounted for $372 million on top of the $1,666.3 million bet on wagering. All these showed good increases.

In total, Tabcorp wagering and media revenue rose by 6.9%. Attenborough attributes that to a greater emphasis on digital access from mobile phones and the like.

Tatts Group (Ubet) is due to report shortly but in 2013/2014 it dropped 2% in wagering, compared with the previous year, while the half year to December 2014 was not much better. With its major market in Queensland in disarray its future is looking a bit grim.

I have four queries about all this.

First, given the unprecedented high takeout from the fast growing Fixed Odds business it is surprising that one or more of the wagering contenders has not started offering better prices. You would think competition would prompt someone to gain market share by doing just that. After all, a book of around 130% provides a huge mark-up for the operator to play with.

It is also a wonder that state governments allow customers to suffer such an impossible burden. (The normal tote “book” is equivalent to about 116%). It’s hard enough finding some value on the tote but the punter who can overcome a 130% book has not yet been born. Of course, greyhound authorities are no help. Both Ozchase and GRV formguides also post similarly excessive price lists.

Second, the clear trend is towards smaller pools as gamblers divert to Fixed Odds and the like. The more that happens the less integrity there will be in tote prices – yet they are still the guiding light for everything else. When coupled with late betting habits – common for the dogs – it means genuine punters have less and less to guide them before making a bet. It adds a gamble to a gamble. Nothing short of a national betting pool will solve that problem.

Third, neither of the above two items encourage more betting from serious punters, hence the continued rise of mug gamblers as a proportion of total investors. In turn, that contributes to more sheep-like behaviour such as over-betting on favourites or following a popular tipster. It also tempts the better punters to leave the tote and try to pick out a decent price on Fixed Odds (but good luck with that).

Fourth, the modern trend towards use of mobile phones and other hand-held devices has encouraged Attenborough to add more staff to process digital betting. At first glance it sounds fine but you need to look deeper. Betting like that is essentially a casual effort and devoid of any real consideration of the fine points of form or track peculiarities. Efforts by racing authorities to offer information for mobiles are unlikely to support anyone really interested in studying form. A tiny thumb-operated screen does not lend itself to making detailed comparisons of stuff they really don’t comprehend in the first place. Nor, for that matter, do some of the rubbishy touchscreen form displays now appearing in the odd PubTab. They offer only three previous races, and contain times and margins only for winning runs (no idea who produces them – they are anonymous).

The totality of this is twofold. The industry is marching towards a framework of mug gambling where the customers don’t know, and probably don’t care, what they are doing. It’s just a bit of fun. Assisting that trend are equally uncaring governments which have allowed wagering operators to get away with practices that would be considered laughable in any other gambling market.

Does this pose a risk? Well, for a start, it is endangering racing’s position in community social terms. Punting is an art which requires study and skill. Gambling is nothing more than greed and therefore attracts adverse attention from lawmakers, social researchers, wowsers and so on. (Note Senator Xenathon is on the march once again). At the moment, wagering on races throws up only a tiny number of problem gamblers by comparison with the pokies and casinos. Given the rise and rise of mug gamblers, that could change to the industry’s detriment.

But quite apart from that, the absence of education, formal or informal, in the intricacies of wagering will continue to hamper the expansion of the industry, dependent for its life on betting commissions. So, whatever the short term success or otherwise of the tactics being employed, the strategy is very risky – and for Tabcorp, too.

Currently, Tabcorp is getting its rewards through brute force, not by finessing the market. Hence the force-fed racing program, domestic and international, which customers have to wade through. Its smaller cousin, Tatts/Ubet, is already showing how chancy that approach can be.

So, what is the greyhound racing code doing about all this? To date, nothing much. The problems created by live baiting also amounted to an opportunity to bring in some meaningful reform. The count at the moment is two to none against any worthwhile change – Queensland and Victoria both avoided the hard questions, or maybe they just did not understand them. Only NSW remains to report but at least there we have our fingers crossed as Michael McHugh QC is known to like a bet now and then (albeit the family is gallops-oriented).

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Past Discussion

  1. Bruce, the problem for you is that there these days there are increasingly too many other ways to lose money by betting.  Why bother with dog form when you can bet on a football game or a cricket, golf or tennis game or boxing match.  And, looking further into the future,  why bet on real time beating heart action at all when dogs and horses can be created in ultra life-like CGI with NO animal cruelty, no doping, no race fixing, no expensive raising and training, and no wastage at all? Do you think that your betting corporations will stick by you when  when busy people increasingly don’t have the time to sit around and study form, when more adverse stories about the greyhound industry come to light, and when there are ample other easier and more enjoyable ways in which people can lose their money?

  2. Bruce, the problem for you is that there these days there are increasingly too many other ways to lose money by betting.  Why bother with dog form when you can bet on a football game or a cricket, golf or tennis game or boxing match.  And, looking further into the future,  why bet on real time beating heart action at all when dogs and horses can be created in ultra life-like CGI with NO animal cruelty, no doping, no race fixing, no expensive raising and training, and no wastage at all? Do you think that your betting corporations will stick by you when  when busy people increasingly don’t have the time to sit around and study form, when more adverse stories about the greyhound industry come to light, and when there are ample other easier and more enjoyable ways in which people can lose their money?

  3. MarionPurnell I don’t know if you are as a person of privilege but “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with a song still in them” Henry David Thoreau. There have always been a lot of ways to bet (including the event you have mentioned) even prior to public racing, the only difference today is the wagering is mainly taxed. I accept that don’t agree with certain forms of recreation and enterprise. I have a different view to you on whether greyhounds not required for racing can become companion animals and I have expressed solutions on other posts. I also believe that the public’s attitude to animal welfare is reflected in legislation on animal rights. The public interest is cyclic and follows other reforms including human rights. I will concede that the current criminal actions around baiting both in the USA in 1980 and currently in Australia have led to a public focus on the racing in the first instance and welfare concerns are  now flowing to companion animals including puppy farms (joint parliamentary inquiry). The blooding of greyhounds is a criminal act and need not be debated).
    The Freedom of the Slaves legislation UK (human rights) Abolishing of Slavery Act 1833
    First animal rights Act Viva Section Act 1876 ( referred to an animal cruelty in laboratories.(RSPCA UK Martin’s Law unsuccessful 1822, Hamiltons Law on slavery.
    Animals in Captivity Act 1900.
    NSW prevention of Animal Cruelty Act 1902 – Defence necessary cruelty (early court cases involved horses)
    Other States (mostly) no animal rights for rodents or pests.
    1947 Universal human rights slavery.
    1953? live hare coursing banned NSW.
    1970’s NGA USA (greyhound association bans blooding of greyhounds_
    1984 Florida legislators make baiting unlawful
    Live coursing banned in other states with South Australia being the last state 1986.
    1992 The senate select Committee into animal welfare. live cattle trade etc. hear that baiting (around metro areas) is a controllable levels.
    1994 Incident of animal cruelty on greyhound track, people charged matter reported in regional paper but did not receive further publicity. ( no over riding public interest).
    1995 Minister Sacks Board conflicts involve human and animal rights (no protests from animal welfare).
    2000 Prolonged ICAC inquiry NSW with potentially criminal drug profiling by Authority revealed in public sittings (No interest from Press or welfare groups)

  4. MarionPurnell I don’t know if you are as a person of privilege but “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with a song still in them” Henry David Thoreau. There have always been a lot of ways to bet (including the event you have mentioned) even prior to public racing, the only difference today is the wagering is mainly taxed. I accept that a considerable group do not  agree with certain forms of recreation and enterprise. I have a different view to you on whether greyhounds not required for racing can become companion animals and I have expressed solutions on other posts. I also believe that the public’s attitude to animal welfare is reflected in legislation on animal rights. The public interest is cyclic and follows other reforms including human rights. I will concede that the current criminal actions around baiting both in the USA in 1980 and currently in Australia have led to a public focus on the racing in the first instance and welfare concerns are  now flowing to companion animals including puppy farms (joint parliamentary inquiry). The blooding of greyhounds is a criminal act and need not be debated).

    The Freedom of the Slaves legislation UK (human rights) Abolishing of Slavery Act 1833

    First animal rights Act Viva Section Act 1876 ( referred to an animal cruelty in laboratories.(RSPCA UK Martin’s Law unsuccessful 1822, Hamiltons Law on slavery.

    Animals in Captivity Act 1900.

    NSW prevention of Animal Cruelty Act 1902 – Defence necessary cruelty (early court cases involved horses)

    Other States (mostly) no animal rights for rodents or pests.

    1947 Universal human rights slavery.

    1953? live hare coursing banned NSW.

    1970’s NGA USA (greyhound association bans blooding of greyhounds_

    1984 Florida legislators make baiting unlawful

    Live coursing banned in other states with South Australia being the last state 1986.

    1992 The senate select Committee into animal welfare. live cattle trade etc. hear that baiting (around metro areas) is a controllable levels.

    1994 Incident of animal cruelty on greyhound track, people charged matter reported in regional paper but did not receive further publicity. ( no over riding public interest).

    1995 Minister Sacks Board conflicts involve human and animal rights (no protests from animal welfare).

    2000 Prolonged ICAC inquiry NSW with potentially criminal drug profiling by Authority revealed in public sittings (No interest from Press or welfare groups)