Mug gamblers sustaining greyhound racing

It’s pretty amazing. Greyhounds Victoria has suddenly found more than $10m extra to boost prize money after first rejecting complaints from the local GOBTA (representing owners and trainers). GOBTA’s major concern had been that participants’ share of industry income had been getting smaller and smaller as the years passed.

2021/22 prize money will now total $63.3m, quite a bit more than NSW’ just announced $47m.

All’s well that ends well? Perhaps, but obviously a serious long term audit is needed to verify just how GRV bosses are working out their priorities. The key word is transparency. The three key variables are:

  • How much is spent on running the show,
  • How much is spent on projects and developments,
  • Where is the money coming from?

The operating technique for the first matter involves deciding how many extra people should we hire – and then deducting another 100 grand for each of them from the prize money pool. Authorities don’t need permission to add staff – they just do it.

The second issue means someone deciding on what seems to be a good idea, allocating some cash or getting a grant, then building it but never bothering to see if it works well or not. Returns on investment seem not to be relevant. Successes are assumed, often to be trumpeted in media releases so people eventually believe it.

The third point is the magical one. Who is providing the income? No-one seems to know but they are always keen to be counting it. Here I will digress a little and insert my own educated guesses.

The Goose and the Golden Egg

All the data suggests that since the arrival of SKY (say 1990) and the consequential emptying out of racetrack crowds, the greyhound customer has been gradually degrading from fairly “cluey” to the mug category. You could expect no more as gamblers who once filled betting rings and rubbed shoulders with everyone from trainers to touts were then left to decide who was due to buy the next round at the local pub. Got any tips, mate?

Narrow-minded authorities and big clubs put their trust in the Goose-like TABs to continue shovelling the easy money into the same coffers – with plenty of help from short-vision state Treasurers and Racing Ministers who welcomed some extra capital from TAB sell-offs. They got premium prices because they made life more difficult for bookies and others to compete.

Then the heavens opened and quasi-legal newcomers flooded the market, so TAB turnover started dwindling to its current unusable level (on a per-meeting basis, that is). Serious punters went elsewhere, but mugs didn’t mind. A schooner still cost only $4 or whatever.

For many, digitisation cut formguides to postage stamp size to suit a phone screen, dog qualities and track peculiarities were distant and unknown so people just bet by the numbers. Saves thinking.

State authorities generated formguides displaying 130% books (why would they do that?) and with TAB support offered tips that were losers before the dogs jumped – Mystery bets, boxed Trifectas and the rest. Online bookies leapt into gaps you could drive a truck through, utilising their lower cost levels and “best-of” price offers to pinch market share from the TABs. That’s OK, mugs could not care less.

The outcome is visible today. As corporate bookies roar past a 50% share of the market, I checked out Victorian racing for the week ending 3 October to see how those gamblers were getting on. That period covered 214 races where 38% of favourites started at odds-on. Of that 38%, some 22% won and 15% lost. Prices being what they are, that means an even dollar on each would have returned you zero profit at best. The wins were never big enough to make up for all the short payouts. Much the same ratios would have applied to favourites bracketted between, say, $2.00 and $3.00.

But that’s just the bare numbers. The other interesting bit is why were those favourites were forced down to such low prices in the first place. In some cases, they were running in fields of 4, 5 or 6 so shorter prices could be expected. But mostly they were just poor judgements. You could put them into two categories.

First, selections involved dogs with some ability but which were not well placed this time – for example, average beginners in poor boxes or up in class. That’s a problem which can easily affect top dogs as well.

Second, they picked dogs which might have won a decent race in the past but which were inconsistent and boasted very low hit rates. The hope was that they would repeat the distant win but, sadly, that seldom happens.

Who made these dogs favourites in the first place is uncertain but they were soon followed by the mob. It ended up with lots of mug gamblers making mug bets with no hope whatever of making a profit over time,

The remaining question is whether there are enough good punters making good bets to balance out the mugs. That is readily answered by pointing to the small and declining size of TAB pools. They cannot possibly sustain any big bets, not even as low as $50 for a win or $10 for a Quinella. A punter would immediately be buying back his own money. Therefore, the punter would be turning to the higher priced Fixed Odds options via either the TABs or one of the corporate bookies. However, he will then run into the fact that the betting house may or may not want to accept his bet, or may take it only if the price is cut back. That makes life difficult.

So where does that leave us? The big numbers tell us that the state authorities are getting more and more cash to play with. But from where? A good guess would be partly from extra races and partly from Covid-restricted homebodies playing with their digital devices (other online gambling is also doing well). All of which leaves us wondering what will happen when we are Covid-free – starting next week actually.

Is There a Greyhound Team?

We have just seen massive national support (and viewing) of the footie finals from glued-on fans screaming for their teams. In contrast, greyhound gamblers treat the product like four-legged poker machines in clubs and pubs which know the more you have the bigger the profit. These folk have little or no association with the animals or the nature of the tracks.

The incoming cash is nice but will the gamblers come back next week or next year? Will they admire the breed more genuinely? Will they become owners or trainers to replace the current aging brigade? Will they tell their MPs or Racing Ministers that greyhound racing is a great thing to have? Will we get decent pools to bet into? The short answer is NO, not unless we stir them up by taking them into our confidence and explaining what goes on and why. In particular, we need to better educate gamblers on the fine points of betting. They simply don’t know and their mates will give them no help.

And the need for bigger betting pools is a no-brainer. Without them the industry will be left forever in its present junior spot with no influence on how the structure might be changed.

Keep An Eye Out

Note: if you think all that is a worry, give some thought to what might happen in NSW. As the new Premier does his musical chairs act, he has a new Deputy Premier in the form of the Nationals MP from Bathurst, Paul Toole, who once was the Racing Minister himself,

Toole actually voted and spoke in favour of the Baird-ban on greyhound racing. Perrottet himself is not a racing man so where does that leave us? Hmmm?

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