A while back we pointed out that Greyhound Racing Victoria's future income was looking a bit questionable, notwithstanding all the publicity about increases in prize money and millions being spent on new tracks and related facilities. The bottom line can be difficult to sort out as the major trend – an easing of tote betting – does not cover online bookmaker activity (which offers smaller commissions) or actions by the state government (grants and changes in taxes and commission sharing amongst codes).
We already know that GRV had done well out of the previous government-inspired alterations to commission shares, which followed the removal of racing income derived from poker machine taxes. However, it seems racing lost more on the swings than it gained on the roundabouts.
That swing appears to be statewide. Racing Victoria chairman Robert Roulston told the Herald Sun “it was looking at a $7 million reduction in its budget for the next racing season”. RV is trying to negotiate a better deal with the government “so that Victoria would remain the No 1 racing state”.
NSW greyhounds are also going down that path since it has had no luck in getting rid of the subsidies it pays to the other two codes under the fixed commission sharing agreement, signed off years ago by a short sighted administration. Balancing that loss by more favourable tax rates is its only hope.
Victoria is also watching closely to see how Racing NSW progresses its effort to force online bookmakers (and presumably Tabcorp) to accept any reasonable bets, particularly Fixed Odds bets, that they have been prone to knock back. However, whether that would make the state more profitable is open to question.
The Victorian issues follow on from the Queensland government's published claim that its new deal with TattsBet will return perhaps $20 million more to the three codes. But the Minister is under fire because he has not yet said how much each code will get. Apparently, a by-election is in the offing and bad news is therefore deferred. But the troops are not happy.
In any event, a few more dollars in prize money are not likely to outweigh Queensland's two main problems – a shortage of good dogs (or any dogs), and an uncompetitive tote. The small TattsBet pools are not about to stop fans favouring bigger southern pools or offers from online bookies. It's not the cream that is the problem but the bread and butter.
When you add in TattsBet's two other key states (SA and Tasmania), we are now looking at almost every jurisdiction in the country, perhaps except WA, facing challenges to their basic income. Even WA is still living in hope that the government will fund the rest of the new Cannington complex. So far, it has money only for the track itself.
There is no evidence that these trends will not continue, or even worsen. Apart from government belt-tightening, the country's wagering system is arguably in a mess and is looking at an unknown future. I would defy anyone to describe a likely structure in five years from now. The dominant players are the shareholders of the two totes and the owners of online bookies and Betfair, all of which are strenuously trying to maximise their profits, regardless of the effect on the industry or its main source of income, the punters. What a curious policy! The goose and the golden egg come to mind.
Ideally, all racing authorities would get together to bring pressure to bear on Racing Ministers to introduce major reforms and perhaps to create some consistencies throughout the country. Sadly greyhounds cannot do that as its only national body, Greyhounds Australasia, does not deal with “commercial matters”. Indeed, it cannot even get the states to agree on racing rules. The other codes are not much better off.
Even the Productivity Commission recommended a national approach to the subject of racefield commissions (in its Problem Gambling Report). Yet state versus state jealousies seem to be an impossible barrier.
Racing is therefore in a precarious position as the two main influences on its fortunes are the policies of state governments and those of betting operators. Racing is in charge of not much more than lining up starters. Even then, it is flat out filling fields to suitable levels. At least one in five greyhound races start with empty boxes and a lack of reserves, thereby reducing incentive for exotic betting.
Some commentators claim it would take at least five years to bring about a national betting pool. That's much too long, given the present state of the art and an unknown future. But that's just the start. Love them or hate them, it's the responsibility of state governments to take control of all betting, perhaps via a National Wagering Commission reporting to the Racing Ministers Council. Yes, that's more bureaucracy but what other options are there?
The system is broken. Now is the time to fix it – and it is urgent.
Last week I suggested that punters should not take less than 4/1 about distance dogs in Melbourne. Alas, they still backed Lunar Jinx into $3.10 and Zipping Rory into $2.80 at Sandown on Thursday. Both lost. The race went to a rank outsider, which plodded home in a pathetic 42.54, nearly 20 lengths outside the record. There was no unusual interference, just inconsistent dogs. Or maybe they were just browned off? Would a long holiday help?
Still in Melbourne (but often elsewhere), the incidence of under-priced favourites is reaching worrying proportions. For example, at The Meadows several tipsters, including the Watchdog, pushed the wares of Bottom Dollar in a Maturity heat and it started at $3.10 or $4.10, depending where you lived. It ran nowhere after an average start but its recent form had been very ordinary, including a win at Wentworth Park in a moderate 30.27. In a smart field like this the numbers suggested it was a 100/1 chance. Its early-year form over shorter trips had been very good but it is futile to bet on what happened six months ago. Warrior King and All Strung Out were also well under the odds. Even My Bro Fabio ($2.50, box 6), which won really well after a slow start, would give you heart failure until it found its way thru the field, and then only because most of the field drifted off on the first turn, leaving the rails open.
No doubt the lack of serious analysis of likely chances is one reason the Fixed Odds people get away with their 130% books.