Thanks To The Diggers

Anzac Day was certainly an interesting time for racing, or at least the night was. With some help from the diggers, early races pulled in bumper Win pools, some of them up 50% on the usual take. However, they did fade later on in the night – too much of a good thing, I suppose.

Albion Park was not too bad but punters would not have done too well at Sandown where only two favourites saluted. Five Quinellas paid $30 or more while three First Fours were jackpotted, or should have been as Tabcorp told its usual porkies about dividends (the posted dividend was greater than the total in the pool). Why do they do that?

While on the Tabcorp subject, there is still no sign of action about getting rid of the nonsensical Duet bets. Winning punters can rely on about $100 to split up between them, which is not a bet at all, especially as you will not have the faintest idea what it will pay. It is high time greyhound authorities thundered in to Tabcorp Tower and demanded they go. Those funds almost certainly would be diverted to Quinella and Exacta pools, which badly need them, doubly so on Anzac night when newcomers are having a go and helping to over-bet the Exacta when the favourite is short. (Tip – when the favourite is odds-on, probably better to take the Quinella).

In recent years the average NSW Win dividend at Sandown has been $6.43 which is, as always, on the high side. In effect, it means throwing a dart at the racebook would do just as well. Punters find it hard to work the track out. The 25 years old track is overdue for a re-build, more so than some of the other places soaking up GRV funds at the moment. In AFL terms, the track should be reported for high dividend, high interference, high fall rate, and quite a few broken hocks (that would be the new sliding penalty). It requires a good five match penalty.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE FACTS – FAIRY TALES WILL DO

Sometimes North Queensland can be a funny place, especially for “southerners”, as they like to call other Australians. Apart from stingers and crocs, it’s the home of a blog-site, letsgohorseracing.com.au, which specialises in copying entire pieces from other media (whether it has permission to do that is uncertain). It was also quite pleased, and surprised, to see some northerners amongst the ranks of members of the recently announced state racing boards.

However, what took our attention was an editorial piece about urgent issues racing needed to address. In particular, it mentioned “then there is the cancer of the overseas-owned corporate bookmakers that have invaded the country in recent years, Of course, there is little QACRIB (the All Codes board) can do other than to entice governments to stem the flow of our gambling dollar off shore and to highlight the deleterious effect the corporate have had on our once proud and profitable industry”.

So there you can see some similarities between the blogger and some way-out politicians of note.

However, the problem with the statement is that it is all rubbish. Apart from being emotive, it is simply wrong. You may have thought that this thinking belonged to the past but obviously this is not true so therefore we need to correct the record lest others get the wrong impression.

Start at the beginning. Changes to the current betting structure were initiated in the early 1990s when leading Sydney bookmaker, Mark Read, addressed a seminar sponsored by the AJC and VRC at Randwick racecourse. Read was finding it impossible to do business effectively because of the myriad of rules and restrictions placed on bookmakers by the government and that same AJC – which was then the Principal Club and the forerunner to today’s Racing NSW organisation.

To protect the TAB, bookmakers were not allowed to take phone or internet bets, to go off-course, to bet before a certain time or on certain races or to corporatise their operation and so on. “Betting back” was strictly supervised. Betting auditoriums did not exist then. Bookies still had to pay fees and commissions and put up with what was the start of a continuing decline in course attendances. (Readers might also recall that punters were not allowed to take mobile phones onto the racecourse, or to use the club’s phones, or, somewhat later, to use laptops to access Betfair and others – the state’s biggest punter, Shaun Bartholomew, was thrown out for doing that).

Read warned the AJC that it would have to change tack or else he would be forced to go elsewhere. It wouldn’t and he did. He set up shop in Darwin, telling his customers to get on the phone to have a bet, something he could get away with in the Northern Territory, and under a much lower tax/fee structure.

Read prospered and was joined over time in Darwin and Alice Springs by a dozen other bookmakers from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, all having the same hassles at home, and all dinky-di Australians, North Queenslanders please note.

The AJC, and later Racing NSW and all their colleagues, were both furious and abusive – parasites, they called the new operators, even though they had offered to pay racefield fees from day one. The offer was refused and the NSW government would not change the rules to support them.

What followed is now history. The establishment lost and the bookies won, and so we now have a reasonably stable but more competitive betting environment. Not perfect but better.

More recently, after Read and his colleagues proved so successful, they came under the eye of global betting companies and started being overwhelmed with takeover offers that were impossible to resist. Australian companies could have done this but failed to do so. Packer was busy elsewhere.

In essence, the NT bookies tried to do the right thing, were repeatedly rebuffed and so ended up driving the proverbial truck through the holes in the traditional racing setup. They moved with the times, the establishment did not.

Racing’s artificial barriers were created by major raceclubs without vision or business sense and by state governments frantic to defend the monopoly licences they had given the TABs (for which the states got paid extra). It could never last, and it didn’t.

The underlying point, missed in North Queensland, is that wagering was on a downward slide anyway, routinely losing market share to other forms of gambling and more recently to sports betting.

The problem is not the “corporates” but the stick-in-the-mud attitude of traditional racing authorities. Customers quickly recognised this but the chardonnay set lunching in the committee room did not.

Yes, the TABs with their monopolies and their lucrative commissions being paid to raceclubs (and shareholders) offered a handy, easy to control world. But it was always a false world. In practice, the arrival of the NT bookies actually served to revive the fortunes of racing, the exact opposite of what North Queenslanders are asked to believe. It even prompted Tabcorp to start up its own bookmaking operation in Darwin.

As for overseas ownership – if you banned that you would shut down half of all large Australian companies and remove the major source of capital the country needs. To say nothing of what reciprocal action it might stir up. A thoroughly stupid idea, really.

Incidentally, the powers that be still have not learned a lesson – business constraints are why Tom Waterhouse had to move his office to from Sydney to Melbourne in recent times.

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