Things Are Not Always What They Seem

It is never easy to get to the heart of things in the racing industry. Here are some topical examples.

Earlier (see Truth is Better than Fiction, 30 Jan) I suggested that, amongst other operators, did not publish turnover figures. A couple of readers took me to task, pointing out that a query of its website would reveal all. Well, they are part right. Yes, if you are a Betfair customer, you can look up what bets were placed on a given race. But not if you are Joe Blow off the street. And nowhere can you locate figures for a given year. To further check this, I queried Betfair directly.

Absolutely, their spokesman replied, “we are not guarded in respect of our results”. However, responding to my twice repeated request for 2010/11 turnover data by code, he directed me to pages which simply showed race by race turnover. These included “matched amounts”, as Betfair terms them, and other information. Very nice, but not what I asked about. And I am hardly in the position to add up thousands of individual race figures.

Apparently, Betfair offered the ARB Fact Book people details of their annual “revenue” rather than a total of the amount bet (which is what the Fact Book shows in respect to TABs and oncourse bookmakers). Naturally the ARB people had no use for this as it is not what it shows for all other betting operators. They simply want to reflect how much Australians bet. “Revenue” to Betfair is in fact the difference between the amount bet and the amount paid out and, incidentally, is the core of many debates between Betfair or NT bookmakers on the one hand and racing authorities on the other. Indeed the High Court is shortly to rule on some aspects of this subject.

Either way, Betfair has twice declined to advise what its annual betting volume is. Therefore, my original claim that it does not publish figures is pretty right.

“Publish”: to make public or generally known (Macquarie dictionary).

The annual report says that it has created “a environment which is more attractive, more accessible and more tailored to the individual wagering consumer”, but there is no information on what, if any, changes occurred to the nature of those consumers – mugs, serious punters, professionals? Then it says local TAB turnover went up by 3.8% in 2010/11 over the previous year. Well, yes, but SA also ran more meetings. How many is uncertain as the report contains no information about the number of meetings or races. However, cash flow did fall significantly when compared with the previous year.

Outgoing chairman Percy Allan has just pointed out that prize money increased at an average of 7.5% pa between 2004 and 2011, well above the inflation rate of 2.8%. That's nice, but the number of TAB meetings rose by 40.8% over the same period, thereby generating more gross income. Obviously income per meeting would have declined at the same time. The increase in costs to run these meetings is not stated.

By the way, this is the same who a few years ago made a speech at the Greyhound Social Club advising everyone to steer well clear of Betfair, as they were a clear and present danger to racing as we know it. Betfair is today a major sponsor of GRNSW.

Queensland Racing chairman Bob Bentley in 2010 said the Logan option for a new greyhound site for Brisbane was dead in the water. He then launched an elaborate infrastructure review which took several months and looked in detail at three possible greyhound locations. One of these was Deagon, which was eventually selected in late 2011 and became the subject of very expensive planning work by engineering consultants. Much publicity ensued. Last week, Deagon was dumped and Bentley advised the Minister that Logan was the pea.

For reasons best known to itself Tabcorp tells lies on a daily basis. Its dividends are always posted on the basis of a $1 investment, except for First Fours. When the First Four has jackpotted, and sometimes even when it hasn't, Tabcorp dreams up its own dividend and puts it on screen in results pages. Sometimes the figure is based on a 50 cent investment, sometimes on some other basis (no doubt prompted by the fact that customers can select any old investment amount when they fill out the Flexi ticket), but never on a $1 investment. Occasionally, even Exacta and Trifecta dividends can suffer this fate. Invariably, the posted (imaginary) dividend is inflated above what $1 would pay. What possible reason is there for Tabcorp to mislead the public?

Finally, it is hard to resist the temptation to show how Racing Ministers and their department heads were thinking in 2003. This is an excerpt from the report of the Betting Exchange Task Force, which contained representatives from all Australian states.

The State and Territory controlling bodies of racing – with direct input from their respective head – generally opined that betting exchange operations on racing give rise to serious potential threats to racing's actual and perceived . Further, the respondents – with the exception of Limited – were generally sceptical as to the existence of any cost-effective measures to satisfactorily address these threats.

It is worth noting that the BETF (and local racing authorities) took no notice of the of the UK racing authority – The Jockey Club – or relevant UK police reports, all of which are on the public record, and all of which complimented Betfair.

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