The Money Or The Box

Where is greyhound racing trying to go? A fair enough clue appeared at the start of the TAB operation at Goulbourn recently: “The strategy aims to increase the supply of race meetings wherever possible to maximise wagering sales, increase exposure of our sport, and deliver improved prizemoney and racing opportunities for participants”, said .

Most of that has happened; exposure, prizemoney and opportunities are up, at least for the moment, in , SA and even to some extent in Queensland. All used the same device – they ran more low class races. However, whether it has maximised wagering sales is doubtful. Whether it is a good thing is even more dubious.

The start of the new era was clearcut. We have long been aware (since July 2010) that the introduction of three extra meetings in the popular Saturday night slot caused a reduction in turnover at and . A more crowded program spread the available patronage across more meetings, often to the confusion of customers as they had to dodge back and forth between SKY1 and SKY2 channels.

Other key planks of this policy have included:

  • More races per meeting
  • New grading classifications for low class or slow dogs
  • A greater proportion of short races
  • All-maiden meetings, usually including un-raced dogs
  • More Novice and Tier 3 (slow dogs) races.

The outcomes, or perhaps the unintended consequences, of these measures included:

  • An increasing proportion of short fields
  • A decline in quality of the average field
  • Flat or declining betting pools
  • An encouragement of sub-standard patterns as runners are captured from the bottom of the barrel
  • The rising importance of mug gamblers in the customer profile

While all this has been going on, the industry’s main money makers – TABs – have been steadily raking in a bigger slice of the betting dollar, partly by jacking up takeout rates and partly by catering to mug gamblers who buy unwinnable options such as Mystery and other specialty bets.

Effectively, punters are regularly paying out 20% to 25% of the dollar, either by using exotic bets or investing in pools where favourites are routinely over-bet. In that betting arena, the fresh input from bookies and is of little help as they merely follow the TAB patterns.

One saviour for industry finances is that the newcomers have generated substantial raceclub sponsorships, something they are easily able to do because of their excessive profit margins over the high-cost TABs.

On the other hand it is worrying to see continuing reports of customers being de- because they win too often. This practice shatters the basic structure of the critically important wagering sector. NT bookies would do well to consider the long term impact of this greedy approach.

Either way, increasing the price of the betting product is hardly a good way to “increase exposure of our sport”, doubly so when the average quality of the product is in decline.

What has happened may be likened to David Jones and Myer restocking with $5 T-shirts and $100 suits. That may well increase total sales but at the cost of trashing their image and endangering their longstanding patronage from valued and more profitable customers. Why would you want to do that?

The other option, of course, is for racing bosses to educate the public, promote champions, improve services, mount marketing campaigns and seek new customers. Success should be measured not by total dollars but dollars produced per dog.

Finding new customers would be like opening Pandora’s box.

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