Truth Is Better Than Fiction

Last Saturday night Australians bet around $2.5 million on greyhound races, half of which was at the premium tracks of Wentworth Park, The Meadows and Cannington, and half at provincial meetings at The Gardens, Richmond and Warrnambool.

Analysis of those figures paints an erratic and worrying picture – one that casts doubts over greyhound authorities’ corporate spin about how marvellous things are.

In practice, business may have crept up marginally (if you ignore inflation and higher costs) but at the expense of the long term development of the industry.

Here I have looked only at Win pool data for Tabcorp NSW, which has the country’s largest turnover. Figures for NT bookies, Betfair and Fixed Odds are not published anyway. Fixed Odds were on offer from Tabcorp for The Meadows and Wentworth Park only. Tatts had no Fixed Odds at all on this night. The races covered a five hour period from 5:30 to 10:30 pm.

While that was going on, five harness meetings in five different states were also running and Toowoomba gallops overlapped. That’s all pretty normal.

Let’s first look at raw figures per race.

$ Win Tote Average Best Worst
Richmond 12,080 18,397 7,229
The Gardens 15,083 22,338 6,994
The Meadows 14,403 19,371 10,748
Warrnambool 12,035 31,152 5,329
Wentworth Park 22,467 31,983 18,569

So what is remarkable here?

First, there are wild fluctuations from race to race, no doubt dependent on the popularity of nearby races in either code. At all except Wentworth Park punters would have to assume that the Win pool would not get past $10,000, and only half of that would be visible on Tabcorp screens by the time they bet. This makes prices no more than a wild guess, which is a turnoff for serious punters. (In reverse, Tabcorp Victoria punters would see larger pools for The Meadows and Warrnambool, and lower pools for the others).

Note that the much smaller Quinella and Exacta pools are even more problematical, doubly so as Tabcorp screens blot out projected prices for lengthy periods in order to show dividends for doubles that you can no longer bet on.

Second, the fact that a lowly 5th grade at Warrnambool nearly pinched top spot for the night indicates that random factors, including the gaps between races, are heavily influential.

Third, the relatively high figures for The Gardens are astonishing given that the entire program was made up of maidens, some of whom had done no more that run in a qualifying race – not win, just run (but, this time, four of those actually won). There would have been no way of properly assessing form. Even stranger is that The Gardens did better than Richmond, where the fields and the performances were more than respectable, and vastly superior to The Gardens.

Fourth, the unknown diversion of business to the Fixed Odds area (and to Trackside) obviously does not help create a reliable tote market. The resulting smaller totals also encourage business to flow across to Betfair where punters can set their own prices – further destabilising tote markets.

Fifth, it would have been nice to compare these figures with those of the same night two years ago (ie before low-class meetings were added to Saturday nights) but unfortunately Tabcorp’s computer is able to present only a blank page for that date (30 January 2010). Still, other checks have shown that turnover at the major tracks has declined as a result of the changes.

What can we make of all this?

Well, the first obvious conclusion is that the fragmentation – more meetings, more betting operators – has destroyed whatever integrity ever existed in the betting market. Remember also that NT bookies, rather than generating their own prices, typically follow the major tote markets. The gallops can get away with this trend but the smaller greyhound pools have no chance of standing up. Just hope for the best is the message to punters.

The other major problem is that casual or mug gamblers are hugely influencing betting markets, aided by strenuous efforts by TABs to pull them away from the poker machines by offering Mystery bets and the like. The wild fluctuations in pool sizes and the attention to rubbish races (eg maidens) is evidence enough.

Not to be ignored is the incident earlier last week when a couple of professionals manipulated the tote market at Horsham – as they did a few years ago at the Gold Coast with Lucy’s Light – and cleaned up on bets with NT bookies. It is uncertain how often this might happen on a smaller scale, and not be noticed.

A good deal of that hassle would be removed were racing authorities, Racing Ministers and tote companies to get together to create a national betting pool. At the very least, any manipulation would become much more expensive and therefore less likely to occur. It is certainly something that NT bookies should support as they tend to be the major victims of rorts.

Next cab off the rank would be a concerted nationwide effort to attract and educate new customers to the thrills of greyhound racing. If they don’t know the difference between an unraced maiden and Noble Pedro or Zipping Lad, they cannot be expected to bet sensibly.

Failing those two measures, bung rules will apply and the situation will get worse.

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