What can we expect from the new Racing Minister in NSW? Troy Grant, the National MP for Dubbo in the state’s west, moved into the job following the recent reshuffle with no obvious experience in the racing game. Dubbo is a popular regional centre of the sort that attracts some industry, the odd NRL game and fly-in, fly-out medical specialists from Sydney. Importantly, its greyhound meetings obtained TAB and SKY coverage not so long ago.
A relative newcomer to politics (from 2011), Grant emerged from a 23 year background in the police force with several awards on the way, not the least of which was a Guinness World Record for playing 1,800 holes of golf in seven days.
That stamina will place him well to handle tricky decisions thrown up by the Borsak parliamentary Inquiry into greyhound racing. The first report is out and will be followed up by another in June after detailed investigation of economic factors by the NSW Treasury.
The big worry is whether a background in public service will qualify the Minister to bring about much needed industry reforms. First among those would be the formation of a national betting pool, which has been recommended by previous reviews and even supported by now-disgraced former Minister, Richard Face. However, another former Minister (McBride) was responsible for knocking back Tabcorp’s attempt to combine its own pools in NSW and Victoria.
In either case, greyhound racing would have been a huge beneficiary. Its small pools are a turnoff for many intending punters. It would also have been some help in overcoming the current shortfalls caused by the iniquitous 99-year fixed commission distribution agreement.
The National Party is not known for its reformist zeal and little action was seen from the previous Minister, George Souris, another country lad. Hopefully, younger blood will show the way, or so Premier Baird assures us.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
One item Minister Grant and his opposite numbers in other states might pay attention to is how Australian punters are getting ripped off by the convoluted wagering system we are lumbered with. It’s getting worse every day.
But first a topical comparison. A report just released by the Grattan Institute shows superannuation fee reform is the largest single opportunity for microeconomic reform in the economy. Apparently, workers are paying about $20 billion a year in fees, or about $1,300 for each account-holder (The Australian, April 28). The Institute estimates that this could be cut in half with better management and supervision.
Yet the totes are not a lot different. They whip out an average of 17% from each dollar bet, and charge almost twice that for Fixed Odds bets where they also retain the right to cut or reject bets when it suits them. At the core they are monopolies and are being supported by state governments which gave them exclusive licenses.
The potential for reform is obviously there as online bookmakers have already shown that they can operate with costs of around 6%, according to the Productivity Commission. Even allowing for the TABs’ extra costs of providing suburban shopfronts and higher commission to raceclubs, that still leaves a big gap between what the TABs charge and what they take home to play with. That’s an opportunity for micro reform which should not be missed. Overall, of the $23 billion bet each year, about one dollar in every five is a candidate for more efficient processing. What is needed is more effective competition or, failing that, tighter supervision from governments.
The system has been allowed to grow up like Topsy, but to the disadvantage of the everyday punter.
STAYING IS A LOST ART
A final note. I see The Australian threw out a worrying thought when it commented on April 28 that “even the damaging evidence of the decline of the Australian-bred stayer could not take the gloss off the fine results on Saturday (the last day of the thoroughbred’s Sydney autumn carnival)”.
With thoroughbreds, an obvious contributor to that decline would be the crazily high prizemoney allocated to two-year old sprinters in the Golden Slipper and similar races. But the position at the greyhounds is similar. With just the odd few exceptions, competition for spots in distance races is poor as owners are too busy chasing quick early returns over short trips and clubs are specialising in providing more short races and added prizemoney for unpredictable maiden series. Any bonuses for longer races are being soaked up by mediocre performers who take it in turns to win.
There has to be a better way to return staying racing to its former glory, but it will not happen just by throwing more cash at today’s dogs. It is surely a breeding challenge for both thoroughbreds and greyhounds.