Friday, November 21, 2008

Tabcorp facing competition probe - 21st November 2008

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is believed to be looking into alleged "third line forcing" by gaming group Tabcorp, as it is offering one clubs association in Victoria discounted access to Sky Channel horse racing coverage and denies this to the rival group. The issue is linked to the likely tenders for the new poker machines licence in Victoria.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Embracing the enemy, by Adrian Dunn - Herald Sun - 17th November 2008

Racing entered the dark side on Saturday. A place where shadowy people in trenchcoats, fedoras pulled down over their eyes, are capable of kneecapping jockeys quicker than you can say whobegotyou.

These unscrupulous people would have turned Australian racetracks into something like the south side of Chicago in the 1930s.

That was the murky scenario painted in 2004 if Betfair, a betting exchange where punters match bets, was allowed into Australia.

Remember those blazing headlines from spring 2004.

First, it was Andrew Ramsden, then chairman of the Australian Racing Board, who said there was a "strong probability" there would be a ban on English horses racing during the spring carnival if Betfair was not outlawed.

Robert Nason, then Racing Victoria Ltd chief executive, went further. He said he would have no hesitation in shutting down the spring carnival if it meant getting rid of Betfair.

Betfair had to be stopped at all costs. If not, we would see jockeys jumping off favourites under threat from drug lords set to rake in sugar bags full of dosh.

A national campaign, including the signatures of leading trainers and jockeys, was mounted to keep the evil Betfair at bay.

The fact that such a drive was illegal was lost in all the scaremongering.

Well, guess what?

As punters arrived at Betfair Park, formerly Sandown, on Saturday to usher in a new era, they did so with a backdrop of not one kneecapping or jockey jumping off a hot-pot.

We were told that Betfair would pillage our racing. How, then, do you explain the millions that Betfair is pouring, via its sponsorship deal, into the Melbourne Racing Club?

And, where will the money go? Into prizemoney, the MRC assures us.

More sponsorship money will be pumped into country clubs by Betfair. Is that a bad thing?

What about the "leakage" from Tabcorp?

Betfair pays a mutually agreed product fee to RVL.

Remember, Betfair wanted to be licensed in Victoria, but moved to Tasmania after being shunned.

Betting is vastly different today compared with five, 10, 20 years ago.

Punters demand more bang for their buck, so to speak. Clearly, they are not going to be force-fed poisonous odds or stale betting products.

Betfair - where punters match bets at fluctuating prices - is not for everyone. It has a boutique appeal.

Much has been made of punters backing or "laying" a horse to lose. Why? Punters have been betting against horses since well before Betfair became part of the punting fraternity.

Betting is all about choice. No one is forcing anyone to bet with Betfair, just as no one is forcing anyone to bet with corporate bookmakers or Tabcorp.

To suggest that Melbourne Racing Club's decision to enter a sponsorship deal with Betfair will bring down the curtain on racing as we know it is nonsense.

One more thing. Seven favourites won at Sandown, oops, Betfair Park, on Saturday.

All jockeys' knees are reportedly fine and the stewards report did not have one mention of a jockey jumping off a horse.

Tabcorp forecast threat to stake hike, by Adrian Dunn - Herald Sun - 18th November 2008

Proposed prizemoney increases for Victorian gallops meetings from February could be shelved if Tabcorp's revenue projections do not meet expectations.

Robert Nason, Tabcorp managing director of racing and media, will this month give the Racing Victoria Limited board an earnings forecast for the next 12 months.

RVL chief executive Rob Hines said yesterday the Tabcorp forecast would provide a telling insight on where prizemoney would go in 2009 and beyond.

Asked about the delivery of the promised prizemoney increases, scheduled for February 1, Hines replied: "I would say they are endangered. We are going to pull out every stop to make them happen, but I can't guarantee that.

"Much will depend on that forecast. It will be critical in deciding whether the prizemoney increases go ahead."

RVL announced on July 14 a two-phase $23.6 million prizemoney injection over the next two years, representing a 15 per cent increase on previous levels.

Included in the media release was the rider "should the performance from the joint venture meet expectations".

The first increase took effect on August 1.

The next planned increases would see country minimums lifted from $12,000 to $15,000 for Thursday and provincial one Sunday meetings.

Metropolitan midweek races and night races would rise to $30,000, while Saturday metropolitan races and feature night races would jump to $70,000.

Hines said the increases were always linked to Tabcorp turnover and the resultant revenue flowing into the industry.

He said if the turnover continued at its current level, the prizemoney increases would be implemented.

But Hines warned the impact of lifting advertising restrictions on corporate bookmakers could eat into TAB turnover.

"If the TAB forecasts indicate a major or large reduction in revenue, then it would be inappropriate and a mistake to increase prizemoney," Hines said.

"I'm hopeful it will be maintained, but I just can't give you that answer today.

"It would be irresponsible of me at this stage to say that we would definitely be able to go ahead until I see those numbers.

"We have been waiting for a forecast from them for a while, but the date is now set for them to deliver a presentation and forecast to tell us how they see the next 12 months."

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Punters have Gilly's stars in their eyes, by John Schell - The Sydney Morning Herald - 14th November 2008

TAB Sportsbet punters launched straight into the Adam Gilchrist-led All Stars to win tonight's Twenty20 match against Australia. "The first bet taken on the match was $5000 on the All Stars at $2.80 which was quickly followed by another bet of $2000 at those odds," TAB Sportsbet's Glenn Munsie said.

Gilchrist heads the most-runs market for the All Stars at $4, with Australia's Matthew Hayden at $4.50.

Sportingbet Australia has installed Australia as $1.40 favourites to win the first Test against New Zealand at the Gabba, despite Ricky Ponting's men struggling in India.

"Australia were outplayed in India but will be a lot stronger at home and New Zealand are not in the same class as the Indians," Sportingbet boss Michael Sullivan said.

(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

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A week for big heads, small bodies and giant gaffes, by Leaping Larry - The Age - 17th November 2008

UFC Countdown was an excellent promotional special building up the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title fight between UFC legend Randy Couture and former amateur wrestling champion and World Wrestling Entertainment star Brock Lesnar.

Verbal comedy was unexpectedly prominent. Apparently, Lesnar learned a trade during his professional wrestling stint.

He was in the make-up chair prior to a television appearance both fighters were making. You don't need much make-up, opined the lady responsible for such matters. Lesnar surmised: "Couture was in the chair for 45 minutes. She's got no materials left."

When the make-up technician began using an airbrush gun on him, he requested "pin-stripes".

UFC president Dana White chimed in, advising the expert, "You're going to need a bigger gun to do that whole head."

Somewhat unkind, but much like everything else about Lesnar that can be visually determined on a PG-rated basis, he really does have an unusually large scone.

Size was also the issue in a true landmark moment in Australian sport TV history on the weekend. Unfortunately, your correspondent missed it entirely. However, through the agency of our on-the-spot-via-armchair source, we can report that dwarf boxing has finally come to the dignified, if not hallowed, halls of Australian pay-TV boxing cards. Our reporter's terminology may lack for political correctness there, but isolating anything about such an enterprise that could be deemed politically correct would presumably require an electron microscope and an unearthly amount of patience.

One might have imagined that compromising the sporting purity of such suburban Leagues Club "fite-nite" extravaganzas — routinely featuring protagonists proudly daubed on chest and back with the names of various local concreters, used-car emporia, and houses of ill-repute — would have been a practical impossibility.

However, it has to be admitted that the advent of little-person boxing as a special feature attraction might just about do the trick.

From conceptual comedy back to the verbal, then — some quick highlights from the ATP Masters Cup match between Andy Murray and Roger Federer. Colour commentator Robbie Koenig, summarising his appreciation of the encounter: "I'm definitely giving this one my stamp of authority."

One would like to see that stamp, which presumably is similar to the kind of grading indication placed on meat by US food authorities. Well, either that, or he meant "stamp of approval".

And main commentator Jason Goodall: "It will increase his chances of winning the match expotentially (sic)."

Apparently, Jason attended maths classes about as religiously as the good folks at Main Event channel — who delayed the Couture-Lesnar screening until today so they could show replays of an Andre Rieu concert all day Sunday — turned up for Programming Priorities 101.

(Credit: The Age)

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gym members to flex muscles, by Edmund Tadros - The Sydney Morning Herald - 16th November 2008

Fitness centres are expected to face a backlash from consumers fed up with strict membership conditions as the Federal Government designs new policies to prevent unfair contracts and a new gym chain prepares to open.

The NSW Office of Fair Trading receives an average of one complaint a day about unfair gym contracts. Problems with ending memberships and obtaining refunds top the grievances.

Consumer advocates hope fitness chain, Virgin Active - which will only have no-contract memberships - will lead to a shake-up of an industry notorious for forcing customers to sign long-term contracts with onerous cancellation fees and conditions.

"Some gyms like to lock you in for a long term, which is something we always counsel people to be careful about," said Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn.

Virgin Active will open its first Australian branch in Frenchs Forest on December 15 and a branch in central Melbourne early next year. It hopes to attract more than 5000 members to each of its 4000-square-metre fitness centres, said managing director Mark Blackman.

The group, which operates more than 170 clubs in Europe and South Africa, will open another 20 sites around the country in the next five years. Monthly membership will cost about $90, in line with other fitness chains.

Gyms that rely on long-term contracts will be under further pressure when Australia's consumer laws are reformed.

The changes, agreed to at the October Council of Australian Governments meeting, will protect consumers nationwide from unfair contracts. Reforms are expected by the end of 2010, said federal Consumer Affairs Minister Chris Bowen.

The fragmented Australian fitness industry is dominated by Fitness First, the world's largest gym chain, which has 85 clubs around the country and more than 350,000 members.

The chain has been repeatedly criticised for signing members up to long-term contracts that are difficult to terminate, including cases where members who are too sick to train or have died have continued to have their accounts debited.

Fitness First member Kirsten Hymers said she was threatened with legal action when she tried to end her membership with the chain. The 22-year-old alleged she was never told her membership was for 12 months when she signed on in June and has refused to pay the chain back outstanding fees.

"They told me I was locked in," she said. "When I first joined, I was really into it. I haven't been for two months now."

Fitness First's national operations manager Michele Harding said Ms Hymers tried to cancel a contract early. Ms Hymers maintains she was never told about the minimum term of the contract.

Ms Harding said members "need [to] just write to us or make a time to see our customer care manager" before they could cancel a membership.

WHAT'S THE BEEF?
 Refunds (81).

 Charging above quotes or overcharging (26).

 Pricing or charges not listed (19).

 280 of the 364 complaints in the last year were resolved by the Office of Fair Trading.

Trading Source: NSW Office of Fair Trading.

Areas of contention Contract cancellations and cooling-off periods (134 complaints).

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Fox in the third dimension of television, by Robert Lusetich - News.com.au - 10th November 2008

David Hill has seen the future of television, and it has a third dimension.

The Australian-born supremo of Rupert Murdoch's Fox Sports empire in the US says the illusion of depth will change the nature of television.

"The big (plasma) screens have made a huge difference to television viewing habits, no doubt.

"Maybe if HD (high definition) had not come along, the internet might have taken over but I don't think HD is necessarily going to save television. I have always thought that HD is just a stepping stone to 3D," he says.

"3D will change everything and it is not that far away from being reality."

Hill is among those who believe that 3D television that does not require viewers to don awkward 1950s-style glasses, will be on the market within a few years.

He has already begun experimenting with 3D broadcasts, renting the cameras from Titanic director James Cameron, who has been leading the Hollywood charge to 3D.

"The results have been fantastic," he says.

"For instance, I think it is going to save the sport of boxing. We did a very ordinary bout from one of the Indian casinos (in California) and it was unbelievable. You are right in there in the ring with these guys."

Hill concedes that "you do need awesome audio" to fully take in the experience, but adds that "overall, what I am seeing is unbelievable".

Across the entertainment spectrum, from filmmakers to studios to electronics giants, the race is on to bring 3D to the market. Cameron and fellow A-list directors Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are all working on 3D projects while Philips has said it hopes to introduce a HD, 3D TV within two years.

DreamWorks SKG co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg recently defended 3D from "Luddites" who say it is just a fad. "Digital 3D has arrived and, I believe, will eventually become the standard because, quite simply, human beings see in 3D," he says. "It's pretty breathtaking stuff. Digital 3D is very real, enriching the film-going experience in truly phenomenal ways.

"This is why many of the industry's greatest directors are currently working on 3D projects. "Initially, as with colour, the economic bar for 3D is high, so for the foreseeable future many films will continue to be produced in 2D. But, eventually, I believe that all films will be shot in this remarkable medium."

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bet his life on it: bookies hold Obama payout, by Nick O'Malley - The Sydney Morning Herald - 8th November 2008

At least two of Australia's largest corporate bookmakers are refusing to pay out on tens of thousands of bets laid on Barack Obama's victory - on the grounds that he may be killed before he is inaugurated.

An angry punter contacted the Herald saying he was told by a senior Sportsbet bookie that the company would not pay out until the inauguration in January in case the president-elect was shot before he took office.

The Sportsbet chief executive, Matt Tripp, denied assassination was the company's main concern.

"It might have been a figure of speech among five or six other things," he said of the conversation between his company and the gambler.

"God forbid he has a stroke or gets hit by a bus," said Mr Tripp, who said Sportsbet had taken 30,000 bets on Senator Obama. "I love the bloke. I want to pay out on him. I think he is good for America and good for the world."

Mr Tripp said that payment at the time of inauguration was clearly stated in the company's terms and conditions for the bet.

The punter, who placed a $2000 bet to win $200, confirmed stroke had also been mentioned when he rang to complain, along with the possibility that the senator could be hit by a bus.

A spokesman for Centrebet said it also would not pay out until the inauguration as a matter of policy.

"[Assassination] is a horrible thought but it could happen," said Neil Evans.

He said such precautions were unnecessary in Australia because bets were taken on parties rather than candidates.

Some overseas agencies were accepting bets at up to 400-1 for Senator Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, up until election day, suggesting people were punting directly on the possibility of an assassination, said Mr Evans.

Other Australian bookmakers, such as Betfair and Sportingbet, have made good their books.

The Irish bookie Paddy Power was so sure of the election outcome that it paid out Obama-backers $2 million last month.

Sportsbet courted controversy earlier this year when it was revealed the company had been cold-calling people with a recorded spiel offering $60 in free bets if they opened an account.

(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Big plunge a sure bet - Gold Coast Bulletin - 4th November 2008

Global financial crisis or not, it won't stop Australians of all ages and creeds from getting a bet on today in the country's favourite race -- the Melbourne Cup.

Betting agency Tabcorp expects to at least match its 2007 turnover of $159 million, but it's telling once-a-year punters to bet early.

If you're lucky enough to be among the 100,000-plus racegoers at Flemington to watch the race, there will be 575 TAB betting windows along with 140 self-service Easy Bet terminals. Punters at Flemington last year bet $11.5 million on the day.

Much of this year's plunge will go on English five-year-old Mad Rush which took over as outright favourite yesterday afternoon at $5, while compatriot Septimus is at $5.50.

In a field dominated by international horses, Zipping is the best fancied Australian at a lengthy $16 and has Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on his side, for dubious reasons.

Mr Rudd was asked at a Brisbane media conference what horse he tipped for the cup. He replied: "Why have I chosen Zipping? Because it's time to zip," and brought an end to the conference.

Like those at Flemington, the Coast will be wining and dining away the worries of the economic crisis as they cheer on their favourite horse and down more than their fair share of beer or bubbly today.

The platters are expected to be piled high and glasses overflowing at the Gold Coast Turf Club with sous chef David Banton ready to feed the army of racegoers.

More than 350kg of prawns, 500 dozen oysters and 350kg of fillet steak will be prepared and presented to feed the expected crowd of about 10,000.

Mr Banton said the current financial concerns had not deterred the crowds from turning out for one of the biggest social events of the year.

"It's like they always say, people seem to eat, drink and punt more when they have money troubles," he said. "We've been busy preparing all the food, with our work cut out for us tomorrow but it looks like it's going to be a great day all around."

At Conrad Jupiters, chefs are expecting to feed about 4000 people at two different events and four different restaurants.

The Marriott is also predicting a big turnout at their Cup festivities with event prices varying from $55 per person up to $135.

The chefs have ordered in 150kg of prawns, 1800 oysters, 1200 glasses of champagne, 780 glasses of wine as well as the piece de resistance of four spit-roasted suckling pigs featured in the Lagoon buffet.

At the Convention and Exhibition Centre there will be the Sea FM Centre of Melbourne Cup lunch hosted by radio hosts Moyra and Baggs with more than 900 expected.

Over at The Villa duty manager Shawn Elsmore said they would have a smaller crowd of 90.

"The chefs have spent five hours preparing canapes and they haven't even got to the cocktail part yet so it will be an early start for them tomorrow," he said.

Greg Tingle comment...

As many punters and switched on casino news media types know, the smartest money bet is being an insider and putting these things on, running an agency, or being on the payroll of TAB, Crown, EzyBet or something to that effect. At least before pending changes to Australian sports betting and online casino laws. That will be covered at CAP Down Under. I'm waiting for Virgin Games and PKR to launch animated horse racing betting. Given the technology now it's viable. The Mad Rush is on.

(Credit: The Gold Coast Bulletin)

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The smart money: Profound plunge on Irish Beauty, by Peter Cassidy - LiveNews.com.au - 4th November 2008

* Not an punter? Glenn Munsie from the TAB walks you through how to place your bet
* Does Mad Rush deserve to be favourite? Alan Jones talks to the TAB's Glenn Munsie

While Mad Rush seems to be punters' pick, the smart money in Melbourne this afternoon is tipped to be on another international. And why not? The mare's being ridden by 'The Boss'.

The legendary big race experience of Glen Boss, a three-time Cup champion jockey, seems to be steering the big players towards Irish raider Profound Beauty, but leading bookmaker Mark Read insists that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Read, whose agency IASbet yesterday took a bet of $500,000 to $70,000 with Tom Waterhouse, says Profound Beauty is a better racehorse is than Media Puzzle and is weighted perfectly.

"All the pros want to back it," Read told News Limited.

“She's a big Danehill mare. She's the same age as Makybe Diva before her first Cup win.

"At the weights I don't see how they can beat it. Dermot Weld has proven he knows exactly what's required, and the mail I've got is that she is absolutely flying on the track at Sandown."

Centrebet's Con Kafataris insists the training of Weld, whose successful Irish stable produced 2002 Melbourne Cup winner Media Puzzle, is a huge factor riding in Profound Beauty's favour.

So confident is he of Profound Beauty's grasp on the Cup, he's backed the mare to win more than $1 million.

"Some of the money is for a client, most of it is mine. I think she will run $7 or less," he told News Limited.

"With Dermot Weld as the trainer, you are backing the man as well as the horse."

The high-end plunge has firmed Profound Beauty from $8 to $7.50 with most leading bookmakers, while the TAB still has the Irish mare out at $9.10.

Mad Rush is holding favouritism at $5.70.

The Odds

RaceTAB odds for the Melbourne Cup

The Field

Septimus
Trainer: Aidan O'Brien
Jockey: J P Murtagh
Weight: 58.5kg

Master O'Reilly
Trainer: Danny O'Brien
Jockey: V Duric
Weight: 55kg

Honolulu
Trainer: Aidan O'Brien
Jockey: C O'Donoghue
Weight: 54.5kg

C'Est La Guerre
Trainer: J D Sadler
Jockey: B Prebble
Weight: 54kg

Nom Du Jeu
Trainer: M P Baker
Jockey: J Lloyd
Weight: 54kg

Yellowstone - Scratched

Zipping
Trainer: J D Sadler
Jockey: D Nikolic
Weight: 54kg

Mad Rush
Trainer: L M Cumani
Jockey: D Oliver
Weight: 53.5kg

Ice Chariot
Trainer: R E Maund
Jockey: M Rodd
Weight: 53kg

Viewed
Trainer: B Cummings
Jockey: B Shinn
Weight: 53kg

Littorio
Trainer: N A Blackiston
Jockey: S King
Weight: 52.5kg

Bauer
Trainer: L Cumani
Jockey: C Brown
Weight: 52kg

Boundless
Trainer: S J McKee
Jockey: G Childs
Weight 52kg

Gallopin
Trainer: D O'Brien
Jockey: J Winks
Weight: 52kg

Guyno
Trainer: L Luciani
Jockey: C Newitt
Weight 52kg

Zarita - Scratched

Newport
Trainer: P Perry
Jockey: C Symons
Weight: 51.5hg

Profound Beauty
Trainer: D Weld
Jockey: G Boss
Weight: 51.5kg

Red Lord
Trainer: A Cummings
Jockey: N Hall (a)
Weight: 51.5kg

Varevees
Trainer: R Gibson
Jockey: C Williams
Weight 51.5kg

Prize Lady
Trainer: G K Sanders
Jockey: M Sweeney
Weight: 51kg

Alessandro Volta
Trainer: A O'Brien
Jockey: W Lordan
Weight: 50.5kg

Barbaricus
Trainer: D O'Brien
Jockey: S Baster
Weight: 50.5kg

Moatize
Trainer: B Cummings
Jockey: Ms C Lindop
Weight: 50kg


As many punters and switched on casino news media types know, the smartest money bet is being an insider and putting these things on, running an agency, or being on the payroll of TAB, Crown, EzyBet or something to that effect. At least before pending changes to Australian sports betting and online casino laws. That will be covered at CAP Down Under. I'm waiting for Virgin Games and PKR to launch animated horse racing betting. Given the technology now it's viable. The Mad Rush is on.

(Credit: LiveNews.com.au)

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Moore action in Mactent - The Sydney Morning Herald - 3rd November 2008

Michael Evans finds love in the air while tent-hopping at Flemington.

It's pleasing to see fresh signs of openness at Macquarie Group. And we're not just talking about publishing advisory contracts of satellite funds.

As your diarist wandered the corporate area at Derby Day, glasnost was in the air at the Macquarie marquee. Gone were the walls and pot plants of past years to stop prying eyes; instead there was a clear view inside.

And who should be sitting at the window but a relaxed-looking Nicholas Moore.

Crisis? What crisis?

Moore spent the day playing host without an apparent care in the world. Studying the form guide, sipping a beer.

He leaned out the window to greet James Packer's former flatmate Matthew Csidei for a few words before Csidei headed into a neighbouring tent.

Perhaps Csidei was looking for Packer's Ellerston tent, which was just metres away last year. Rather prophetically, with Packer's Ellerston GEMS having disappeared from the market, so too had the tent vamoosed, with the plot not rented out this year.

But back to Moore, who chatted with a host of guests, among them the former Allco banana Peter Yates, who strapped on a chaff bag for a long stint in the tent.

While we did not spot Moore celebrating any successful, er, capital raisings, we see him take what appeared to be a tenner from his wallet before the last and head to the in-tent TAB to place a bet. Rather prophetically, it seems the capital injection came a bit late. The gates opened and Moore was left holding the tenner. Still, it's good to hold cash right now.

But we can only wonder about Moore's hunch bets for the day.

Perhaps, with an eye to the Macquarie share price, he had

No. 17 in the last, Count To Zero. Or No. 5, Tears I Cry. Maybe he had an eye on Fighting Fund or Keen Commander in the ninth. Or Captain Fantastic in the fifth. Our tip was in the fourth - Think Money.

(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Betting's new dawn, by Dan Silkstone - The Age - 31st October 2008

The race to lure punters has been thrown wide open by new betting regulations and, as Dan Silkstone reports, debate rages about who will be the winners and the losers.

It is the race that stops a nation, reaches into its back pocket and removes $50. On Tuesday, Australia will go gambling crazy — the Melbourne Cup is the biggest punting day of the year by some considerable margin. And as the big race begins, they will jostle for position, fi ghting hard for a victory that will bring one of the richest purses in sport. Not the horses, that is. The bookies.

Victorian racing is in the grip of a gambling revolution as recent law changes have opened up a fl ood of new competition. The battle to sign up punters is getting bloody.

Since 2006, interstate and internet-based corporate bookmakers have been offering "tote odds" in Victoria — duplicating the prices of the monopoly tote operated by Tabcorp but offering a 5% bonus.

The corporates can do so because they pay far less back into racing than Tabcorp — less than 1% of turnover compared with the tote’s return of six cents in the dollar.

Racing authorities have warned that as the tote loses market share, a crisis looms for future race funding. The corporates say they are happy to contribute, as long as the price is fair.

But everything changed again only three weeks ago when the Victorian and NSW Governments suddenly lifted restrictions prohibiting corporate bookmakers from advertising in mainstream media and sponsoring races and events.

The result is a flood of money rushing into advertising as at least 10 companies fight for brand recognition, punters’ patronage and market share.

"Everyone right now is getting pretty ruthless competing for advertising space and exposure," says Centrebet’s Neil Evans.

"There’s a massive land grab on at the moment," agrees Andrew Twaits, chief executive of rival operator Betfair. There is big money at stake. Last year — a bad one for punting because of equine influenza — the Victorian and NSW TABs took $1.36 billion during Victoria’s spring racing carnival, more than $150 million of it on Cup Day alone.

The overall amount punted this year should be considerably higher, but most in the industry believe that a growing share will go to the interstate internetbased corporates.

Despite tough times, everyone expects a lucrative week.

"Betting is recession-proof — it’s often said, but I think it’s true," Evans says.

"In difficult times, people drink more and they bet more," Sportsbet’s Matt Tripp agrees.

"They seem to turn to the punt if the pressure is on."

All of the big corporate bookmakers have invested heavily in billboards, newspaper and other media advertisements, trying to convince punters used to betting at a pub or TAB to try the online experience.

"Competition is now furious, and where you have competition, you have got big money," Evans says.

"The gambling world has finally woken up."

"The corporates are thriving in the new environment but the TAB is struggling," says Tripp.

"They simply haven’t got the product that the corporates can offer and, with the advertising now, punters are being made aware of that."

Sportsbet alone turned over about $1 billion last year. This year, it is aiming for $1.5 billion.

Amid it all, racing authorities warn of calamity as the corporates strip revenue away from the tote — the source of more than 90% of racing’s funding.

Tabcorp’s Rob Nason says the tote’s market share has fallen from 95% in Victoria to about 72% in five years. The current advertising blitz is expected to worsen that situation.

Racing Victoria Ltd and the Victoria Racing Club have joined Tabcorp in calling on the State Government to enforce Victorian laws preventing interstate operators offering tote odds.

If, as seems likely, the state cannot do so, they want Racing Minister Rob Hulls to pressure the Federal Government to intervene.

"If the State Government doesn’t believe it has the capacity to regulate that, then we are suggesting the Federal Government get involved," Nason says.

Hulls said yesterday he was powerless to prevent tote odds being offered from interstate, but he would take the matter up with fellow racing minsters when they meet in Melbourne in December and would push for the matter to be referred to the Federal Government.

VRC chief Dale Monteith also wants the State Government to investigate the promotions being offered by some operators during the current orgy of advertising, saying that offers of up to $1000 in free bets in exchange for signing up were a nightmare for efforts aimed at curbing problem gambling.

"Some of those ads, the State Government needs to consider what is responsible gambling when people are offering free bets of up to $1000 for signing up an account," he said.

"They (interstate bookmakers) have got no knowledge of what responsible gambling is, and you only have to look at their ads to see that."

Hulls said he had asked his department to keep an eye on the advertising free-for-all as the Government prepared new guidelines to be implemented next year.

"I want to send a very clear message to bookmakers who want to advertise that it won’t be open slather. It will only be allowed if it is responsible," he said.

Tripp said a race for market share had started.

"It might come down to who has the deepest pockets," he said. "Since the gloves came off, we have spent $3 million and will probably spend $3 million more before the year is out."

The change is already happening. On Cox Plate day, Centrebet’s turnover was up by almost 20% on last year. For Tabcorp and its tote, the take was substantially down.

Centrebet alone expects to take about $2 million on the Melbourne Cup and $5 million for the day. The number of punters using this one site will be measured in the tens of thousands.

Betfair has less than 1% of the market, but expects, with the relaxing of advertising rules, to grab a 5% share in coming years. It is hoping for a turnover increase of about 30% this year.

"This (the advertising change) will help generate a lot of interest in the carnival, more than in previous years," Twaits says.

RVL chief Rob Hines says it is inevitable that the pressure on the tote will worsen. Monteith said the tote odds offered by the interstaters were obscene.

"We cannot survive off the back of fixed-odds betting . . . They are offering us about 0.66% of turnover whereas we are getting about 4.4% out of the tote," he said.

"If there is more inaction, we are going to see money siphoned out of the racing industry. It is happening now and the figures are not insignificant."

Hines says one solution is for the sport to make more money from television and other media rights, creating new products and selling them better.

"The AFL do a terrific job of bringing all the games into one package of media, which they then sell on," he said.

Tabcorp has responded within the past month by setting up its own Darwin-based offshoot, Luxbet, to replicate the interstate competitors’ model. Already, it has 7000 customers.

"Something like 95% of racing’s funding comes from the tote," Nason says.

"Unquestionably, we are expecting to have a significant loss of market share because we just cannot compete on price with someone who does not make the same contribution to the racing industry."

ALL BETS ARE ON

THE KEY PLAYERS

CENTREBET
BIG Darwin operator that offers odds on everything from elections to Olympics. The first agency to offer online betting in Australia (in 1996). Keen to sponsor sporting teams and race meetings to gain exposure.

TABCORP
GAMBLING giant privatised in 1994 and charged a licence fee for monopoly to run Victoria’s tote. Now competing with a range of interstate online operators who pay lower fees back to the industry. Contributes $300 million a year to racing industry.

SPORTSBET
DARWIN-BASED company run by bookmaker Matt Tripp that claims to be the biggest of the corporates with turnover of $1 billion last year.

BETFAIR
A DIFFERENT model, based in Tasmania, that allows punters to lay odds with each other, similar to a stock exchange. Also pioneering in-race betting.

LUXBET
NEW Darwin-based enterprise started by Tabcorp to compete with the interstate corporates. One month old and already has 7000 customers.

BETSTAR
NORTHERN Territory-based corporate owned by former Melbourne bookmakers Alan and Michael Eskander.

BETEZY
SMALLER, Darwin-based company offering betting on racing and other sports.

SPORTINGBET AUSTRALIA
DARWIN-BASED corporate online and phone bookmaker, an offshoot of the Britishbased company Sportingbet. Is regarded as one of the bigger operators, betting on racing, sports and politics.

(Credit: The Age)

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