Tabcorp will continue to get bigger, with more international activity to please its shareholders and a compensating fall in attention to smaller local races – i.e. greyhounds. Tatts/Ubet will get smaller and cause concern to the four smaller states in which it operates, and is being saved only by growth in non-tote betting (which returns a smaller share to the industry).
And now Paddy Power, owner of Sportsbet, has effectively taken over the local Betfair organisation, thereby removing a key competitor. Betfair, which was half owned by James Packer, has never quite had the impact in this country that its parent had in the UK and was struggling for decent profits. At the same time, Packer’s Crown group is climbing up the ladder with its own rapidly expanding “corporate bookmaking” operation.
While tote betting is closely regulated by the individual states any other sort of betting is only lightly touched by governments, leaving operators to make up their own rules, including the application of higher charges.
The Feds are supposedly busy trying to control illegal overseas-based betting operators but it is difficult to see how they will overcome the problem in the long run. Better education of gamblers would be a help but perhaps superior service – i.e. better prices – from local operators would be a more productive defence?
Underpinning most of these changes is the rapid transformation of the shape of the betting market. Depending on the classification, between a quarter and a half of all business is now done on a quick-fix basis using hand-held or other electronic devices to make a bet while you are walking down the street or having a beer in the pub (note where the TV ads are located). By definition, that means you cannot study the form properly.
But are the betting operators overdoing it? Every step being taken raises the hackles of anti-gambling groups, both in the community and in the national parliament. For the moment, they are in the minority and have little direct power but those things can change. At the same time, it means the racing industry is allowing the growth of a typical customer who has neither the means nor the desire to use skill and knowledge and therefore become a true punter, as opposed to a mug gambler. That’s a big risk.
The major current issue is that the federal government has little real power over wagering while the states are relinquishing their power to the people controlling the betting activity. In those circumstances the customer can never win.
Not the lawyers, please
Readers raised a couple of points about our call for better track designs, especially regarding the elimination of the bend starts scattered all over the nation.
However, I am a bit nonplussed by their pleas for the “QCs” at the Special Commission to get cracking on this subject.
Remember the Commission was set up to look into live baiting. Only later was it authorised to look more broadly at the industry and its sustainability. So far, given it has been grabbing hold of waffly data about breeding, it inspires no confidence that it should have had the extra job.
As for tracks in particular, it would not have the faintest idea what makes up a good or bad track. These are lawyers, not racing or greyhound people. Consequently, without expert input (and doubtfully even then) it cannot possibly assess how bad tracks affect the industry, or even which ones they are.
But this subject gets worse.
For example, Paul Newson, interim CEO at GRNSW, sounds gung ho about the track question. He announced that “We have committed to reviewing the design of greyhound racing tracks in New South Wales to ensure the safety of greyhounds racing remains paramount above all else.”
Two points about that. First, it is one of the typically aspirational claims made by racing authorities. It is not a plan but merely a PR statement so GRNSW can be seen to be doing something. Second, the clear evidence is that GRNSW does not have the expertise to carry out the task. They would be guessing. Every job it has overseen in recent years (Casino, The Gardens, Gosford, Richmond, Dapto and Bathurst, and even Wentworth Park in 2001) has produced new faults, or repeated old ones, including bend starts. Easily the worst would be the horrible right angle start to the newly built 450m trip at Bathurst.
On the plus side, GRNSW does have some recently acquired expertise in surface construction techniques but that is of no help if the shape of the track is faulty.
The question of track design is a major issue and a national one. To date, everything has descended to guesswork, and not very successfully at that. It is not possible for anyone to claim expertise until a serious independent study is conducted into all the factors that combine to make a decent track. So far, that has not happened.
Partly because it would be an expensive study it would need to be supported by all states and therein lies the usual problem. Would they get together? (Remembering that two of the bigger ones do not have a permanent CEO or board). Rarely does that happen when money is at stake but there is no more deserving cause than this one.
The industry may well recover from 2015 – its annus horribilis – but it has no hope of making real progress until it creates a national body with genuine power and authority. Only then can it look properly at such things as breeding numbers, betting, track building and accurate statistics.
Barely two years of age, the highly promising Sulzanti broke a hock at Sandown last week in the Shoot Out. I have lost count of the number of dogs who have met this fate at this track, but I hope someone is adding them up.
Given the public state of the industry at the moment it beggars belief that GRV would not be getting stuck into this problem. Is the club mightier than the state authority?