Where Is The Money Coming From?

Some really strange developments are appearing on the scene. They fall into the “who are those guys” category.

Betting turnover is the query. Last week, speaking about the NSW tote here, the biggest Win pool of the week occurred at Wentworth Park on Saturday night – but only just.

The next two in line were not Wenty’s Friday meeting, or The Meadows, or Sandown.

They occurred in the twilight zone at The Gardens and Bendigo on Friday. These clubs raced between 4pm and 7pm but did particularly well between 5pm and 6pm – or, in other words, at the end of the week when workers are on their way home and stop off at their favourite TAB outlet.

And there was nothing unusual about the Bendigo meeting. It contained not much else than your average provincial 5th grade races.

Yet those two were way in front of the major tracks on Thursday nights – Sandown and Albion Park – and Meadows on Saturday night.

Consider some of the average turnover figures per race during last week, which was fairly typical.

Greyhound Meeting Average Turnover
Saturday (N) Wenty $20,512
Friday (T) Gardens $19,105
Friday (T) Bendigo $18,576
Friday (N) Wenty $17,829
Saturday (T) Gardens $17,128
Saturday (N) Meadows $14,290
Thursday (N) Albion Park $13,888
Saturday (N) Richmond $12,145
Thursday (N) Sandown $11,667

The preference for twilight slots is also evident earlier in the week, and so is the bias towards interstate meetings. For example, Albion Park does better than Bulli on Monday nights, just as it does quite well on Thursdays.

Of course, NSW gallops punters have always strongly supported Victorian racing. But the relative demise of Saturday night betting at Wenty and Meadows is much newer – dating from 2010 when NSW and Victorian authorities jumped into holes created by Tabcorp and started offering three additional meetings at The Gardens, Richmond and Traralgon, all switched from other days of the week.

Traditional Saturday turnover at Wenty and Meadows has fallen by one third or more. The end result is a little more total cash per day but less attractive pools at the major tracks. A big contributor to the fall has been the rapid fire scheduling of races, coupled with the usual delays in harness race starts. Having two SKY channels to follow also makes things interesting. Punters barely have time to think, much less study the formguides.

So what were all the attractions? Albion Park had the Flying Amy heats and Richmond was running the Oaks heats but these were all just interesting rather than spectacular. Wenty had four semi-finals of the Peter Mossman but nobody got really excited about them either. In fact, none of these special races made the slightest difference to patronage at the tote. Other races did just as well, maidens included.

Some of these figures would be different on the Victorian tote, of course, but the broad principles are fairly similar.

That leaves us with some conclusions and not a few puzzles.

First, the most important factor is when the race happens and whether it has clear air around it. Clashes will devastate turnover.

Second, social factors are vital. Work and family needs militate against night meetings but act in favour of the twilight slots.

Third, field quality is almost irrelevant. Gamblers make very little distinction between maidens and higher grade races. They tend not to worry where the races are located, or even how far the trip is.

Fourth, why do NSW punters prefer Brisbane racing over local or Sandown meetings? I find that impossible to fathom.

Fifth, and most important, where will all this lead? The increasing domination of pools by mug gamblers is obvious but will it continue as it is, or increase, or fade? And where are the serious punters that once pushed pools to much higher levels? Any migration to Fixed Odds, online bookies or Betfair does not explain the gaps. However, it is evidence of some dissatisfaction with TAB pools. So is the long term decline (in all codes) in Win betting, in favour of some exotic bets with their occasional lottery-like dividends.

Bear in mind that nothing stays still. The continuing split of the betting pie means the core product – standard TAB pools – will suffer even further diversions and the degradation of the overall product. Only the creation of a national pool offers hope of reversing that trend in the medium term.

Underlying everything is the doubt about who these investors actually are. I doubt there is a single racing authority which has the faintest idea of their customer’s profile, or their motives. Or, if they do, they are not talking about it. TABs, which now effectively own the customers, may know a fraction more, but probably only in terms of what bet types they fall in to. Consequently, there is no way to predict what those customers will do next, or if there will be more of them. This, and the absence of genuine marketing efforts, makes racing unique amongst Australian business enterprises.