Olympic standard somersault at the dogs

Often I wonder why state authorities make something hard when it would be dead simple to make it easy. Share the worry, so to speak.

Let me first say that I don’t envy the job that the industry’s leaders have had to do over the last eighteen months as Covid-induced changes have forced themselves on the industry. Staff must have been driven crazy trying to keep up – so the effort is appreciated.

Even so, I still don’t think they have got the message.

The ongoing dispute between Greyhound Racing and VGOBTA (representing many trainers) faltered during mediation as, according to GRV, the VGOBTA “walked away … despite our best efforts”. GRV’s chair then issued a flowery media release while VGOBTA listed its detailed proposals and GRV’s responses on its website (www.gotbav.org.au). This was soon followed by a joint release by the parties stating that prize money increases would be “considered” at a GRV board meeting on 27 August, 2021.

Lo and behold, that meeting then managed to spirit out an extra $5.3 million from the coffers to fund extra prize money for the current financial year. This poses the question of why that offer could not have been part of the formal negotiations before the independent mediator. No idea – not stated.

Future board meetings will “consider” the proposed option of calculating prize money as a specific percentage of income – as VGOBTA proposed in the first place. Such schemes are normal in other like AFL, cricket, etc.

What all this illustrates is the peculiar attitude to transparency by dominant state authorities. It points up that the main GRV statement was nothing more than a collection of waffly platitudes. There was not a hard fact to be seen.

There were lots of words about growth, prize money, safety, viability, welfare and “why we genuinely want to resolve the issues raised by GOTBA”. But they were only words, not facts and certainly not decisions. VGOBTA put up a series of hard figures on prize money movements over recent years – all showing a decline in participants’ share of the goodies; GRV responded with waffle.

Indeed, the three biggest jurisdictions (Victoria, NSW and Queensland) have worked much the same way – for example, by announcing big percentage increases in betting turnover but not telling us what the actual figures were. So why should we actually believe them? How can we assess their origin? What sort of punters contributed? What tracks did well? How will the aging Tabcorp be affected? Is the industry really progressing?

Go further: if GRV wants “to build safer racing with strong welfare and integrity”, as it says, why did it install riskier starts (with tightly located drop-in ) for short races at Horsham and where it has been demonstrated that interference and fall rates are worse than they were previously?

It is not acceptable to simply say UTS did it (which is true in a sense). UTS has some brilliant people but they are only advisors and they started with zero greyhound racing experience. It is up to management to assess their suggestions, along with others, before actually taking action.

Lots of other evidence of such shortcomings are available. For example, what attention is being paid to Sandown 595m and Meadows 600m bend starts where heavy interference is routine? Why were new middle distance starts at several provincial tracks created (or moved) so as to locate the starts close to an upcoming bend? Why were 511m and 550m bend starts replaced with near-identical 520m and 545m bend starts?

Possibly the most intriguing and most expensive exercise has been the development of a radically different track at Traralgon (due to open later this year). At the outset, two different options of short-medium length trips, generated by an engineering firm and UTS, were put on display for public comment. Yet a third option – a modernised version of a conventional track – did not make the list so it could not attract support. Why not? Who decided a “J” shaped track was the only acceptable layout, and why? Is there no need for 550m-700m racing any more?

When you spend capital the next thing a business should do is to assess the outcome – what were the costs and benefits? Did we achieve the objective? No answers to these questions are available in Victoria or anywhere else. Project auditing is absent. Faults are ignored. Publicity is minimal.

Clearly, these processes make a mockery of transparency and consultation claims appearing in all Annual Reports but seldom reflected in practice. It indicates a certain culture dominates the way these instrumentalities operate. Sadly, in everyday terms, they are responsible to no-one.

MAKING A DOLLAR – OR NOT

Previously, I cast some doubts about the Watchdog practice of offering lots of Place in their list of selections. Your choice is either to do what the Watchdog does and grab the Fixed Odds prices – which means you accept the 130% or so books which produce those prices. You are betting against a house which is often better armed than you are, which starts with a financial margin in its , and which is able to accept or reject your bet at will.

Or, you can take pot luck with what the Tote offers – which means you have to go down the risky road of depending on what your fellow punters do, and when they . But this option is seriously impacted by the small size of greyhound pools where, unlike Fixed Odds, a little bet can have a big effect. Still, the Watchdog also seems to have quite an indirect impact on Tote prices.

Anyway, a double check is worthwhile. So I had a look through the last three months results.

It turns out that the Watchdog’s Place picks succeeded on 56% of occasions and paid an average of $1.86. For those same picks the Tote paid an average of $1.75. However, that Tote figure was affected on 16% of occasions when it paid out only $1.04, thereby indicating that punters had thumped a relatively huge amount into the pool. Of course, if you knew that was coming you would hardly bother betting at all. Still, it may also indicate that the Watchdog has picked the right dog.

Back to the nitty-gritty. A return of an average of, say, $1.80 for winners is all very well but we then have to account for all the losers – ie the 44% which returned nothing for an assumed $1.00 investment. Once you deduct all that you find that you made a profit/loss of between plus 5 cents and minus 4 cents per bet, depending on where you bet. And the more you bet the worse would be the result. Not very exciting, is it?

Reasons for the poor results would include over-betting on favourites, following the sheep, percentage takeouts by betting houses, the unpredictable nature of Tote dividends, small Tote pools, unknown or erratic investments through corporate bookies and the very nature of greyhound racing – one bump and it is all over. All this despite the assumed better knowledge of the Watchdog – although some 54% of his Fixed Odds selections paid $1.50 or less, which leaves little margin for error.

Another oddity is that quite a few of the Watchdog’s Place selections actually won the race. (I don’t have the count but they appear fairly regularly).

Overall, tipsters around the country will be flat out averaging one winner in three. Favourites will win less than 50% of races, sometimes much less at risky tracks, odds-on favourites will win a bit over 50% of their attempts.

In summary, the Watchdog offers three different picks on its formguide pages and myriad other suggestions in its Daily Mail. It’s bound to find a winner or two somewhere in these options but overall profits will be hard to locate. At the time of writing, its own results for the last 28 days showed a loss of 12%.

The trick, of course, is to closely scrutinise the prices to make sure you are getting above the true odds. An even better trick would be to convince state authorities and state governments to create a national betting pool where prices would be much more stable and investors more confident. It would not be hard to do.

Whatever, Place betting is very whiskery. Worthwhile at the gallops, perhaps, but not for the dogs.

Much better for the Watchdog to concentrate on forecasting how races will be run – thereby allowing folk to better understand what greyhound racing is all about. Pricing and tipping are better left to others.

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