A FEW years ago, Tabcorp’s boss (the previous one, not the current one) announced that wagering was a “mature industry” so he started branching out to investments in casinos and the like, aimed at raising the returns to shareholders. Soon followed the massive growth in corporate bookmaking, takeovers by European companies, illegal entries by unlicensed overseas bookies, and Tabcorp’s own rising interest in overseas racing.
The latter, of course, occurs partly at some risk to local racing, which does get a small cut of the action but has to wear having its own races elbowed out of contention in an overcrowded marketplace.
At the same time Ubet, with its four contracted states, is fading steadily, especially in its traditional Queensland home. The sooner it is taken over and we gain a national betting pool, the better.
While this was going on, the customer profile changed. Racing used to be an oncourse bookmaker-led industry. Now it’s a financial version of a Luna Park lucky dip – lucky as to prices, that is. The current major influence is fixed odds betting by digital means – phone and internet – often using 130% books, or way higher than even the tote. The punter’s only chance of profits is to outwit the bookie and find prices set wrongly, which is not an easy task, considering how few of those punters use a formguide, or even understand one when they do get it.
In short, punting is dying; gambling is the way of the future. There are many illustrations of that process but here I have picked out last Saturday’s meeting at The Meadows, featuring heats of the Silver Chief series for youngsters. They included several smart interstate campaigners, although only two did any good – Marley Bale and It’s Classified, both from South Australia.
The keys here are twofold: most favourites were way under their correct odds, and the GRV Watchdog heavily influenced starting prices on the tote (for the worse, as only one of his selections won).
Anyway, let’s look at how all the favourites fared (NSW prices).
JESAULENKO (1) Race 1. SP $2.10. Some good form but can’t jump like his namesake and not particularly helped by having the inside box (Watchdog says “likes to mid-track”, which is pretty right). Well under the correct odds. Ran unplaced.
AMERICAN MONSTER (6) Race 2. SP $1.80. Fine career so far but not a great beginner so from box 6 this was a ridiculous price. Ran 3rd.
REPAYMENTS (6) Race 3. SP $2.30. Capable but a poor beginner and needs inside to show best so box 6 was not helpful. Well under the odds. Finished 4th.
DIEGO BALE (7) Race 5. SP $2.10. Form OK but not likely to lead these so the outside box at this track offered no bonuses. Under the odds. Ran 4th.
UNLAWFUL ENTRY (3) Race 6. SP $1.50. Very good galloper but also a very risky beginner so had to gain a clear run. Began mid-field but was cluttered up on the turn, ran wide and fell (all its own fault). Price presumably based on good form in Ballarat Cup and win in Hobart Thousand but the times in both were solid rather than spectacular. 48 hour break between Hobart and this race would not have helped anyway. Price way too short for a dog with these habits.
(After the fall the dog got free and ran back into the field as they headed for the finish line. It was amazing to see the first four dogs dodge like top footballers to miss him. Stewards said no placings were affected so gave correct weight. Fair enough, too).
SNAKEBITE BALE (2) Race 7. SP $1.90. Good form in its 5-race career but the price ignored presence of dog inside it which had run top times at Gawler, Angle Park and in a Meadows trial (It’s Classified). Snakebite came out poorly and was never in it. Price far too short.
CUTTING EDGE ((1) Race 8. SP $1.60. No argument about its favouritism but can be risky at start so there was no value at all in this price. Won nicely.
MOREIRA (7) Race 10. SP $1.70. Well under the odds for a moderate beginner in an outside box at this track. Did well to run 2nd behind a form reversal runner.
HARLON (4) Race 12. SP $2.50. Produced its best-ever jump and overall time to take out the race. Given the middle box this outcome was not predictable at that price – too short.
Races 4, 7, 9 and 11 were open betting affairs.
So there you have it. Popular dogs were over-bet and started at depressed prices. Top selections from the Watchdog also started at below-par prices (as always). Both factors indicate the sheep-like behaviour of modern gamblers.
Comparing the above prices with those for Fixed Odds is impossible because any published F/O prices do not tell us what went on during the betting process. All we know is that they started off at prices that added up to a 130% book. For reasons that are impossible to understand, the Watchdog also provides similar rip-off price guides.
Consequently, the rising influences are gamblers who don’t know what they are doing, Fixed Odds betting against horrible odds, the use of hand-held devices to make your bet on the run, and the absence of fans from the racetrack where they might have some chance of learning what the game is all about. Nowhere is there any indication of efforts to gain and educate genuine form-studying punters.
That is far from the “mature market” that Tabcorp worried about in the 1990s. But it is a different one. What is there is a gap that could be filled by bigger pools (a national one), reliable dogs, better tracks to put them on, more promotion and a resultant product that could pull in cashed–up sporting types looking for some regular fun. Who will make this happen?