The Case Of The Disappearing Punter

It’s not easy being a punter. In years past I can recall knowing only two who regularly made good money at it. There were lots of others who claimed big wins but I doubt they ever added up their losses

In both cases, the basis of their approach was to put a heavy line through many races on the program. They concentrated on one or two candidate races for their investment. The selection always involved a good knowledge of the likely winner and its preferred spot – normally on the rails – as well as a close study of the other runners’ form and habits, and their own experience with the track.

From there they differed. One didn’t mind taking odds-on. In fact, he almost demanded it. Since he rarely ever lost he steadily built up his bank, allowing him to bet in the hundreds, which in turn made sure the tomato sauce odds continued. I still don’t know how he did that

The other was much more choosy. He liked the odds going his way and sometimes gave the race the go-by if they were not to his satisfaction. To his bet, he always added an extra $50 “for the wife”. She got the proceeds when he got home, thereby ensuring a regular outing to the track was a desirable habit.

But I am not sure how they are getting on now. Several checks reveal that no more than 50% of odds-on pops are actually winning. Consequently, regular backers must lose in the long run. Their choices might not have been too bad but the odds killed them off. Without doubt, the big factor there is the sheep-like behaviour of gamblers hoping to double their money with a quick bet on the favourite between beers. The more of these there are, the worse the odds become.

Mystery bets don’t help much as they tend to concentrate on short priced runners and the TAB computer takes no notice of the odds. It would matter little if it did, because screens would be showing no more than about half the final total – the remainder still flowing through the ether on the way to the TAB’s head office and then tacked on to the SKY signal making its way to your venue .Updates are quite slow until just near the jump. And small greyhound pools can be unforgiving.

On top of which is the nature of the track where the race is being run. For example, my above friends were very wary of Wentworth Park and would never touch Sandown. On average, both those pay well above $6 to winners, which means a great many were well over that figure.

However, in the last month, the main meetings at Sandown (and The Meadows) fared slightly better for winners than either Wentworth Park or Albion Park, mainly because of top dogs racing at the moment. But the bigger hassles are always in the placings – ie in exotic bet combinations, where bolters frequently get up. One good bump can completely change the running order.

Overall, 44% of odds-on favourites at these main four tracks failed to win. Albion Park was easily the worst offender. There are no profits there.

Fortunately for my friends, neither dabbled in the exotics. Nowadays, the rewards have been scuppered by both interference and the growth of Mystery bets and tipsters recommending boxed combinations. The latter two have destroyed payouts on Quinella and Trifecta bets. Even if you win, you lose in the end.

So, the betting product now consists of ….

1. A 14% to 25% takeout by the TABs. Online bookies are no help as they offer only tote odds themselves. Fixed Odds are useful only if you can catch them unawares. These books typically run at 130% or more.

2. A disruptive track element which adds probably 10% to 30% to the difficulty factor.

3. An unknown price outcome as late betting habits can murder the odds you first saw, even when you leave it to the last minute to bet.

4. Constant clashing of race starts in an overcrowded program, frequently worsened by delayed harness races, leading to erratic displays on some screens and confusion amongst the viewers.

That adds up to a mark-up – more correctly a mark-down – of around 50% of your betting dollar, a margin which no punter alive could overcome. No wonder sports betting is growing fast.

That leaves stuff like the Quadrella and Big 6 but they are no more than lotteries anyway, given the heavy disruption factors and higher TAB takeouts. Betfair is there but of limited value due to those late betting habits and volatile price structures. Happily, there are still First Fours, which are only modestly affected by the “mug” sector, hence their increasing popularity, despite the TAB’s big grab of 22.5% of the action.

Massive takeouts like those must have been a huge contributor to failures in American tracks (all 20% and upwards), reducing turnover and pushing customers over to nearby casinos and the like – including what they call “cardrooms”.

All this prompts the obvious questions. Why are TABs not recognising the downward slide and doing something about it? They are trying to kill the golden goose. Fixed Odds are not the answer as they only worsen the overall package. Besides, they were introduced primarily to compete with online bookies, not to benefit punters. And why is the industry not acting to improve track reliability and doing more about educating new punters? It’s like asking a football team to play without boots.

Right now, there is a long list of race types which are best ignored – Maidens, Tier 3, C Class, Restricted Wins, Non Penalty races, Juveniles, 300m events, 5th Grade distance races, any bend starts and (insert your own choice here). May be if we ignore them they will go away? Sure, these attract some cash, but has anyone asked at what cost, and where that cash comes from? And where it is not coming from?

I can answer the latter. 20 years ago, or even 10, around 20 or 30 patrons would turn up at my usual spot at the club on Saturday nights. Today, they number between one and three. Week nights between Monday and Thursday don’t even bear thinking about. Every ClubTab and PubTab in the region shuts down soon after dinner except for those where the counter is already staffed by bartenders or cashiers for the poker machines. Another big club has closed its normal ticket machines five nights a week and told customer to go and use the touch screens, which can be a bit of a pain, especially if you make an error. This is another reason that both Tabcorp and Tatts are losing ground in their traditional markets.

A wager is supposed to offer both parties a chance of winning. That argument is getting a bit thin these days.

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