There is no doubt that Tabcorp and its forerunner in NSW, TAB Ltd, has revolutionised the way betting is conducted. It has just passed its 50th birthday with a record of expanding the market and increasing the range and quality of its products. More bet types, faster service. Buying up SKY and radio stations helped.
However, I won’t be sending them a birthday card. While I appreciated its first 45 years, recent times have revealed some cracks in the foundation and displayed lots of greed. For an organisation formed to “provide a service to punters” it is now hell bent on screwing what it can out of the system, almost regardless of the needs of the racing codes. Those codes now exist to provide ammunition for the betting operators, rather than the other way round.
The latest innovation, if it can be called that, is the co-mingling of Australian pools with the huge Hong Kong gallops pools. Tabcorp had covered Hong Kong previously but big punters can now bet into those pools without fear of affecting the odds. That’s nice for them but irrelevant for 99% of local gamblers. And gamblers they will be, as few would have much idea of the intricacies of racing there, much less the form of the runners.
Like all its other overseas deals in Europe, America, Singapore, South Africa and New Zealand this expansion is designed simply to raise the total volume of cash passing through the till. Tabcorp and its shareholders take their full cut from every one of those dollars. Local codes obtain a tiny dribble of commission but the majority of that is not new money at all. It simply replaces what would otherwise be earned on local races. In turn, the worst affected is the code with the most races – greyhounds.
The further outcome is that local pools are in continual decline, making them less and less attractive to serious punters. In an overcrowded program, a fixed number of investors now spread their money over more races, including (for gamblers) the overseas events. Keen though they are, there is no evidence that there is any increase in the number of Australian gamblers, and their wallets are still the same size. Anyway, would you rush down to the TAB to have a punt on Swedish trots?
Indeed, the cumulative effect is that the proportion of gamblers to genuine punters is continuing to rise.
That trend is being re-inforced by Fixed Odds betting, a relative new product where operators are generally unregulated and offer rip-off odds to uneducated gamblers while cancelling the accounts of knowledgeable punters who manage to win too often.
Indeed, we have had recent evidence that Tabcorp operators manipulate Fixed Odds bets after the race has started. But it is a double whammy. Those same Fixed Odds bets – now around 25% of total betting – have to be deducted from what would otherwise be more usable tote pools, thereby making them even less attractive. And so the cycle continues.
It’s no good blaming Tabcorp or the online bookies for this mess. They are simply optimising their positions under the rules in place, which are very light indeed. No, the problem is that governments have tightly regulated some sectors of the industry and let the others run willy nilly.
But how can you regulate what happens in one state and not in another? Money will flow to the area where the best offer is available, which is the price of having fast communications over the phone and internet. The only answer is that all state and territory governments have to join forces to create a national betting market and allocate its “owner” (the chief regulator) the power to regulate all betting in the interests of the public.
In fact, this was effectively the conclusion of the Productivity Commission in its report on problem gambling when it favoured national agreement on the level of commissions and deductions. Nothing came from that, of course, but the solution is sitting there anyway.
Building Tracks – Here’s How To Start
Australian sports technology company, Catapult Sports, just listed on the stock exchange, is the latest to announce successful international sales to “allow sports scientists and coaches to measure player movement and fatigue during matches and training”. (The Australian, 10 December).
The company already services college sports in the USA as well as half the NFL teams and one third of NBA teams. It now has its eye on horse racing, aiming particularly to improve media coverage. “There is so much going on with the video vision and you don’t have (the necessary) clarity”, according to CEO Shaun Holthouse.
This has some similarities with the Tasmanian proposal to attach GPS markers to runners in local thoroughbred events, mainly to assess sectional times.
That sort of technology could be a great help in providing greyhound track designers with the hard data needed to ensure more trouble free racing.
Cash To Spare
When listing some issues with recent tasks undertaken by NSW authorities we forgot to mention Goulbourn. The “C” class operation there got a kick along a couple of years ago with a big capital contribution from the authority to re-build its track and modernise other facilities.
Unfortunately the track designer must have left his glasses behind. Inside dogs at the main 457m start have to turn to the right at the jump and then straighten up (a bit like Dapto 520m). Having negotiated that part, they then run into a jumbly approach to the turn and a flat turn into the straight (Bulli style). Runners have been seen tiptoeing along the grassy edge in the home straight. All this for several hundreds of thousands of dollars.