Tabcorp Hedging Its Bets

Following falls in normal TAB business in 2013/14 Tabcorp is looking to increase the proportion of betting done via smartphones and the like, particularly in respect to in-play bets which are currently available only through phone or personal contact. Overall, betting rose 18.2% to $2.9 billion during the year.

CEO David Attenborough wants to see punters wandering around ClubTabs and PubTabs furiously thumbing their I-Pads and the like as the field heads up the back straight. TAB licensees would be pleased as the extra business (assuming they get the credit) would help with the economics of running their facilities, and also make their venues more valuable in the long term.

Last year retail betting volumes fell 4.9% in and 1.2% in NSW, which would have been offset by the increasing Fixed Odds business where the company saw a 37% rise in revenue (the turnover figure was not stated).

The benefits of in-play betting for greyhound races are dubious due to the short time frames involved. In fact, how Tabcorp’s price assessors might operate is also a mystery given the huge advantages accruing to leaders. It would be practical only for longer galloping and harness races.

It would be far more helpful to see TABs set up decent “bookmaking” facilities under their Fixed Odds banner, where punitive books of 130% or so are now the norm. More so as genuine bookmaking is almost a lost art in greyhound racing, certainly at most TAB tracks.

A breakdown of Tabcorp’s racing turnover shows NSW with $3,819 million and Victoria with $2,762 million. Its Luxbet “bookmaking” subsidiary in the Northern Territory showed almost no increase.

However, the declining importance of tote betting places even more pressure on the need to create a betting pool, particularly for greyhound racing which suffers from too many tiny and unworkable local pools. Both state Treasurers (in taxes) and racing authorities (in commissions) have much to gain due to their higher takes from traditional betting forms.

Added to that is the relatively poor performance of the betting exchange Betfair, which is struggling to maintain a level. So much so that James Packer’s interests have now bought out the British parent’s half of the action. His future strategies are unknown but he has shown a long term preference for gaming rather than , unlike his late father.

This is a pity as the concept of a betting exchange provides a significant alternative to traditional means of betting. That’s worth its weight in gold at a time when genuine bookmakers are becoming thin on the ground.

A CHANGING MEDIA LANDSCAPE

If you get one bad apple, how can you be sure there are not more in the bag?

Readers may be amazed to learn that reporter Natalie O’Brien from Fairfax has just won a media award for environmental investigations (not related to racing this time). O’Brien was responsible for a series of heavily biased reports on greyhound racing around the time of the establishment of the NSW Parliamentary . Some of those reports extensively quoted dissenting comments by Inquiry deputy chairman Dr John Kaye MLC (Greens) who has himself been side-lined by his fellow members for his lopsided views.

Both these people have clearly indicated they just don’t like greyhound racing. No special reason, they just don’t like it. Well, that’s their right.

O’Brien’s articles occurred around the time of the strongly slanted and poorly researched ABC TV program about greyhound “abuses” on the 7:30 Report. And, while O’Brien’s articles purported to be “reporting”, in practice their limited views should have placed them under an “Opinion” heading. Clearly the paper’s management is not very observant. Or perhaps they just don’t understand racing.

All have since been discredited by the Inquiry, which reported favourably on the care and dedication of greyhound participants. However, it was critical of the code’s . A final report on the financial outlook for greyhound racing is due very soon.

In my view, the lack of balanced reporting in the (now) left-leaning Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC means consumers should take anything they say with a grain of salt. I don’t trust either, and nor do many learned observers far more competent than me. For the moment, I am continuing with my SMH subscription only to keep track of what is going on and because I like to get their crosswords and football commentary.

Meantime, although it is a year since this kerfuffle emerged, no action has been seen from racing authorities to better inform the general public about the industry or the greyhound breed. Our leaders seem to think that if they keep punching out media releases which are read only by industry insiders that all will be well. That will not happen. The public will never come to us – we have to go to them.

Let’s take the words out of Hilary Clinton’s mouth. In an interview on America’s future, reported by the Wall Street Journal and The Australian she advised, “We should take pride in ourselves and make our case to the world. We don’t even tell our story very well.” Exactly.

As for awards, many of these appear to be insiders applauding other insiders. All very nice but hardly objective.

DESIGN TO ELIMINATE CROWDING

At Sandown in race 10 yesterday stewards thought fit to mention that “Sky Fighter crossed to the rail soon after the start checking Yakamov Bale, , Eliza Blanche, Sisco Good, Zipping Snoopy, Dr. Don”.

Well, technically, there is a grain of truth in that, but not much more. Sky Fighter is not a crasher and did not crash on this occasion. It simply moved gradually across to the rail, leading by the time it got to the judge.

What really generated all the interference, and there was plenty, was Kerrigan Bale (1) moving out immediately after the jump, thereby inconveniencing favourite Eliza Blanche (2) and generally squeezing up the field. Therefore it appeared that Sky Fighter did more damage than it was really responsible for.

The point about this is not just to pin-prick the stewards’ words (although they could have done better) but to emphasise how important it is to devise ways of designing tracks so that dogs are encouraged to stay further apart. That may not change anything either of these two dogs did but it may help the rest of them.

As a further illustration, in two other races the inside squeezing led to two very good gallopers but moderate beginners from box 8 being able to whizz around the field on the first turn to record really smart times (, R8 and , R12). Both deserved to win but other runners were denied a similar chance. The fix? Not entirely sure but may offer a few clues.

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