Mixed Blessings

Amongst a few others, a blogger, obviously one of AGR’s wide spread of readers, took issue with a point made here a while ago that mug gamblers were becoming a nuisance in tote pools. Instead, he claimed they were actually helpful in boosting pools and should be encouraged.

This misses the point.

Of course, more cash in the pool is generally a good thing. Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. But it begs the question of whose cash they are replacing. If mug money is extra, then fine. But if it is replacing educated money, as it is in current times, then it degrades the product.

Besides, where have the educated punters gone?

One answer might be to and NT bookies. Or perhaps to sports betting. Or to the great racecourse in the sky. Another is to the Fixed Odds area. In most of these cases, mug money is unlikely to figure because effort and navigational ability are required, to say nothing about handing out your details. Some diversion is understandable as discerning punters would no doubt be identifying benefits here and there, relative to the normal tote. A few cents would do if you are betting in the hundreds.

In any event, none of us really know who the industry’s customers are. Sometimes the TABs let slip a morsel of information about the makeup of their average betting dollar but even then they comment only on customers in groups – eg premium, which means professionals, and others – and not on the average investor’s habits or size of bet (they may know this but they don’t tell us about it). They make claims about punters fleeing to NT bookies but they are only guessing as the truth could emerge only after in-depth research into the personal preferences of individual punters – and there is no public evidence that has occurred, only assertions and anecdotal reports.

Greyhound authorities would know even less as 99% of their customers never go near the track. At best, they would have to ask the TABs, which brings us back to square one.

Of necessity, my own claims are based mostly on circumstantial evidence, but it is continual, consistent and there is a good deal of it.

Anyway, consider the disbenefits that accompany mug gamblers.

First, small pools are bad pools. Prices fluctuate, wildly at times, but even more so if mugs dominate. This is precisely what originally diverted bigger punters to Fiji and Vanuatu bookies – the forerunners to today’s NT bookies.

Second, other betting operators rely on the major totes for guidance (and for betting-back opportunities), which means crazy or artificial prices can reverberate around the country.

Third, mug gamblers distort dividends through their use of Mystery bets. Any multiple including the favourite can be guaranteed to pay “unders”. So, even if the shrewd punter chooses his Trifecta well, he is likely to lose in the long run. TABs cause that hassle in the way they allocate runners to bets. It’s never random but always includes a runner from each portion of the rankings, especially the favoured couple. Boxed bets, which are also guaranteed losers, have a similar impact.

Fourth, dependance on mugs poses risks for the industry. They cannot be relied on to return to the dogs – any old gamble will do – and the loss of serious punters increases the size of that risk.

Some of these issues would disappear were Australia to create a betting pool where local bias is no longer a factor and wobbly prices would smooth out. It would not change much in the thoroughbred code, where the amounts are already large, but harness and would improve overnight.

Another small benefit would occur if Tabcorp got rid of the ridiculous Duet bets. They attract very little themselves but what they do pull in detracts from normal Quinella and Exacts pools.

Besides, figures for Australia’s national day – the first Tuesday in November – reinforce the concern. Overall TAB figures were down by the order of 10% but most of the drop is being attributed to the Cup itself. Other races on the program appeared to attract normal turnover.

It is interesting that the only bet type to show improvement on the day was First Four. It is doubtful if casual punters would select this option for their Cup bet when less complicated bets are available. Put the better performance down to regulars and professionals who can bet big in search of the huge dividends.

Some mention diversions to NT bookies and Betfair yet there is nothing new about that, this year or in the last couple of years. Similarly with the presence of overseas horses, which is old hat now. It is therefore a fair deduction that mug money was well down. Casual gamblers did not come out for their annual bet in the same numbers. We will probably never know why, but suffice to say that this can never be relied on to keep betting, whether on the Melbourne Cup or anything else. Something else may grab their attention.

Either way, the question remains: are we doing a good enough job of marketing racing and wagering? Apparently not. Party goers, yes, but not punters.

For example, two days after the Cup, the high profile SHOOTOUT ran at Sandown. Tabcorp Win totes pulled in $16,447 in NSW and $26,066 in . In both cases these are no more than normal figures for graded races at Sandown. The quality of the dogs and the unique nature of the event counted for little.

Diversions to Fixed Odds pools may have influenced that performance but we will never know because Tabcorp keeps those figures secret, too.

In total, a golden rule might be that every betting dollar is a valuable one but an even better is one that is repeated next week.

* * * * *

A side note on betting habits:
What were they thinking at that same Sandown meeting? I am befuddled at why punters sent out three box 1 dogs at such short prices – , and Hella Good.

Although they have won from the inside, all of these run better and faster from middle or outside . In fact, Pedrosa would have chopped the heads off dogs on his right if he had not jumped clear of them.

Anyway, the peculiarities of Sandown’s first turn were never going to help dogs like these near the rails.

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