Ominous signs continue to appear about the structure of greyhound racing in this country. At risk are the smaller states and the smallest TAB operation. Tattsbet looks after four states – Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania – but they are the smallest betting states and the most vulnerable.
Take as an example last Tuesday’s meeting at Devonport, Tasmania’s third largest centre. It started at lunch time and was fairly normal except for the scheduling of heats of a Puppy Championship. (A “puppy champion” in an oxymoron, surely?).
Here is what happened to Win pools for the 10-race program.
|Tabcorp NSW||Tabcorp Victoria||Tattsbet||Total|
So Tasmania is the home state and Tattsbet is the home TAB yet they failed miserably to gain a reasonable share of the action. Any pool under $10,000 is unworkable from a punter’s viewpoint. Both prices and dividends will be volatile and unpredictable. Almost all Tattsbet’s pools were in that bracket.
Obviously, Queenslanders (from Tattsbet’s corporate home) could not have been too interested but neither were Tasmanians. The larger populations in NSW and Victoria would have helped to boost their figures but anecdotal evidence suggests there was another big influence. Tasmanians are nicking over the Bass Strait – electronically – to patronise SuperTab in Melbourne. They always used to do this, of course, but that was when the government-owned TasTote ran things and was pooled with the Victorian-based SuperTab, along with WA and some overseas totes. They could bet into that big pool without leaving home.
Since Tattsbet bought out TasTote last year there has been a modest rise in Tattsbet’s overall business but it is not doing any good for the locals. Tasmanian Racing Services, a government instrumentality, is losing money because of the smaller throughput. Questions are being asked in Parliament but it seems the horse has bolted, so to speak.
The time to evaluate cause and effect was when the Tasmanian government was assessing tenders for the Tastote business. Presumably, it found Tattsbet to be the better option at the time but, in doing so, did it consider the unintended consequences – such as customers rejecting the newcomer and doing the logical thing by favouring the bigger pools in Melbourne? It seems not.
While SA is doing reasonably, Tattsbet’s core business in Queensland is facing a grim outlook as all three codes are doing it tough. That’s not a new trend. It has been clear for many years. The previous Racing Queensland boss, Bob Bentley, was always keen to point out that harness and greyhound codes were losing money but the gallops are not doing much better now.
Phone and internet options have continued to improve since then, making it even easier for locals to bet on interstate races or to use interstate betting operators. Just as Tasmanians have done, it looks like Queenslanders are deserting the cause, too.
We now have two racing jurisdictions – Tasmania and Queensland – with more problems than you could poke a stick at, particularly financial ones, while Tabcorp’s only tote competitor will need to work miracles to reverse the current trends. As it happens, Tattsbet is already under regular criticism in Brisbane for the way it runs its business (misleading advertising, poor Fixed Odds, slow to post future markets, and so on).
As we have frequently sugggested, creating a national betting pool would help a lot, although it will not solve all the underlying structural mis-matches. Big will continue to get bigger and small, smaller. Not that Tabcorp does anything to attract applause as its tote business is looking wonky, too, as the national betting market further fragments. But it is much bigger and momentum will carry it through for a while yet. Either way, expect both tote companies to look harder at expanding their lottery, keno and casino arms to try to please their shareholders.
However, diversification like that is not so easy in.the racing area, although some attempts have been made here and there – eg oncourse Tabarets, motels, land sales and the like. But there are only so many rabbits you can pull out of the hat.
However, here is one suggestion I made in a July 14 article about the Hunter Region in NSW. “Maitland, hampered by an Agricultural Society landlord, needs a bulldozer and a total re-development into a modern multi-purpose sporting and cultural complex. Greyhounds would be just one part of that. It has huge areas going to waste and lots of decrepit facilities including an obsolete grandstand which leaks and where the roof once blew off in a storm (shades of Albion Park?). The track faces into the sun and needs re-shaping in any case. Greyhound racing must get together with the Maitland community and jointly develop a long term plan. The showground concept is dated and ineffective and they are disappearing across the state anyway. Maitland itself is growing, it has historical assets, some industry, nearby vineyards and thoroughbred studs and is, in effect, a dormitory suburb of Newcastle, which itself is the largest non-capital city in Australia and bigger than Canberra”.
For the moment, greyhound racing has obtained breathing space in some areas by doing more lucrative deals on betting commissions – in Victoria and SA, if not elsewhere. But what next after that?
Years ago, I posed a question to readers. What would a Packer or a Murdoch do if they owned racing? How would they tackle a declining return on assets or a riskier betting climate? The obvious answers might be a bit too radical for today’s racing bosses but that is the direction they must look to ensure a profitable long term future. Start with increased efficiency in the production of races – the dreaded rationalisation word comes to the fore. So do more expansive arrangements with local or state bodies which often own the racecourses. It comes down to a more hard-bitten and more market-driven commercial approach – one that may be beyond some raceclubs, all of which are run by amateur committees. But who knows what might happen once the pressure is on? Even if it is not on, raceclubs and state authorities would be best advised to assume it is.
The trick will be to recognise the really good things we have – a quality breed, a skilled workforce, some enthusiastic owners and a highly marketable race product – and to do more with them. Much more.
Meantime, two states and one betting company are at risk.
PS: In case you thought Devonport was an extreme example, consider this: at last week’s main meeting at Hobart, in the normally more popular Thursday night time slot, the take was actually even smaller than at Devonport. But just think what customers might do if they had $35,000 pools to play with.