Greyhound Betting Is At The Tipping Point

What was interesting about last Saturday night is that it told us just how greyhound racing income has developed in recent times. It’s messy, to say the least, and demands serious thinking from administrators.

There were five major meetings – at Horsham, The Gardens, Richmond, The Meadows and Wentworth Park – followed by two late night efforts from WA (Cannington) and Ipswich, which is a recent addition to the Saturday program, as is Lismore which also operates occasionally in the midnight slot. Several harness meeting were scattered around as well.

The key issue is how the customers reacted to this program, which is fairly standard for a Saturday night. The short answer is randomly and erratically.

A few short years ago, Wentworth Park and The Meadows had this bit of the week to themselves. Their Win tote pools consistently averaged in excess of $30,000 and $20,000 respectively on the NSW tote. Those proportions would be reversed on the Victorian tote but we will use NSW data in these discussions.

Today, you can cut those figures by a third. The three newcomers have horned in and taken the cream off the top, generally averaging $10,000 or better. Between 7pm and 9.30pm there were five races in competition with each other at any one time, often with only two or three minutes between races and with fans having to dodge between SKY1 and SKY2 screens. Harness races, with their inevitable delays, were slotted in regularly, too.

The average pools last Saturday were:

  • Wentworth Park – $20,146
  • The Meadows – $14,778
  • The Gardens – $13,668
  • Richmond – $13,324
  • Horsham – $12,430
    • All started racing around 7 pm except for The Gardens and Horsham which got going a couple of hours earlier. Ipswich and Cannington started around 9.30 pm

      Last week was quite typical. It shows how the available betting was split up between races in an unpredictable pattern. Pools rose and fell in accordance, apparently, with whatever event happened to be up on the board at the time. Even the busiest meeting – Wentworth Park – saw pools ranging from $14,000 to $25,000 while the least busy – Horsham – ranged from $6,600 to an unbelievable $25,470.

      That Horsham oddity tells the story. It occurred in race 2, a maiden, just before 6pm and after nearly all the gallopers had gone home. Only The Gardens had a nearby race, and its biggest two betting races were also early – in race 2 ($21,452) and race 4 ($22,069), which was also a maiden. In other words, if there was nothing else to bet on then the two dog races did very well indeed, virtually doubling their normal turnover, irrespective of the standard of the dogs.

      Horsham’s big race of the night, the Horsham Cup at 8.07 pm, did well in Victoria ($30,000-plus), no doubt due to a good attendance, but was ho-hum in NSW ($12,905). Three other Horsham races did better than that in NSW.

      Richmond was even crazier. Its top rating event, race 7, pulled in $21,068 and it was only an ordinary Grade 5. Either side of it were a Free For All ($12,454) and the final of the Derby ($17,984), both with quality performers engaged. Very strange.

      The Gardens was a low Class C meeting yet it still came in with bumper pools when only it and Horsham were racing in the late afternoon.

      Perhaps the only logical betting event of the night was at Wentworth Park, where the top rating Grade 3-4 race attracted the best pool of the night ($24,962).

      Inescapably, greyhound betting now depends on mug gamblers who happen to be present at the critical time, and on the proximity of other races. The two capital city meetings gave punters a small chance of achieving a reliable price but the other three meetings would have been hopeless in that respect.

      More importantly, that mix shows no sign of changing, except for the worse. No sensible punter will take a look at these pools and decide to make a major investment. Neither the value or the certainty is sufficient to encourage him. He will go elsewhere to find a target for his recreational dollar. In some cases, punters may well divert to NT bookmakers, Betfair or to Fixed Odds betting but even there the pricing is still largely dependent on what is happening in the main tote markets.

      These trends are consistent with the long term all-code decline in Win betting as a proportion of the total, and a rise in some exotic betting, such as First Fours with their lottery-level dividends (but higher TAB takeouts).

      The greyhound industry is now facing a conundrum. In the short term, it appears that the aggregate betting volume over a week or year may be a little higher than before but the quality of that betting is on the decline due to the smaller pools and the growth of mug gamblers. Where will that lead to in the long term?

      The danger for greyhounds in that, at the best of times, it has by far the smallest pools of all three codes. Continuing current trends will therefore discourage fans from taking any interest at all, whether they are big punters or weekend gamblers. It is becoming just another poker machine.

      The alternative is to create fewer but better class races and market them more actively to existing and potential future customers.

      I should add that the Victorian habit of shifting meetings back and forth between different days of the week also does not help achieve consistent patronage. The Horsham pools on Saturday were only marginally better than for its normal Tuesday twilight timing and even that was due to running maidens during a gap in the overall program.