Richard Irvine is a professional punter who has led the charge for all Australian punters at Fair Wagering Australia.
It’s a tough battle against the might of the corporate bookies, but Richard is up for the fight.
– The current state of the Australian wagering landscape
– The bookies who have deliberately made things very difficult for him
– Why Victoria should follow the lead from NSW on minimum bet rules
– The dangers to the future funding of the racing industry
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Dave Duffield: Thanks for joining us Richard. There’s been a fair bit happening in the wagering landscape, so I wanted to get you on to have a chat about that. For people that aren’t familiar with what you do, tell us about Fair Wagering Australia.
Richard Irvine: It’s really just not much more than a WordPress blog, but it’s a bit of an advocacy and activist site. I think it was maybe two and a half years ago, I was just really fed up with everything that was happening.
It was sort of when the last of those corporates setup shop in Australia, and I couldn’t even have one bet with them. I tried to open accounts with them and they were like, “Don’t even bother.” I was like this is ridiculous, they need to be brought into line and exposed, so I did my best to get a bit of media attention to it. It was pretty easy to get back then, because it was a pretty fresh story and it needed to be told.
A few things got out there and I seemed to get a bit of traction, and I just felt like I had a whole lot more to say and a lot of other people had a whole lot more to say. I didn’t think there was a really good tangible platform for people to talk about what the industry is really like, so I just set up that Fair Wagering site with another bloke and it’s basically just an open forum really. Anyone who wants to put anything up there can and have their say. We’d even welcome bookies to put stuff up there if they wanted to, but of course they’re never going to.
It’s been good, it’s been quite successful. We’ve had quite a lot of traffic to the site. If something happens in the industry and I feel like I need to say something about it, I just put a little story together and put it out there and it stokes debate.
Dave Duffield: At that time when you were trying to open an account, let alone have a bet, so you weren’t even getting to that stage? You were basically banned before you started?
Richard Irvine: Yeah. I think I tried with Ladbrokes, I opened up an account and put $5,000 in on my credit card, and then was just surfing around the site and suddenly everything flashed and I was logged out.
I was like, that’s so weird, tried to log back in, couldn’t log back in. Then I called them and they were like, “Yeah, sorry you’re not allowed to bet with them”, and I was like, “So literally I’ve opened the account five minutes ago, I’ve put five grand in, and it’s flagged in your offices and you know who I am, you’ve just arrived from England and you’re not going to even give me one bet?” They were like, “Yeah, that’s what’s happening.” I was just shocked, really. That sort of drove me into action.
Luckily for me I recorded the phone call that I had with them, and then took it to Today Tonight, that venerable journalist program that used to be on Channel 7, and they were pretty excited about it and used it as one of their tabloid stories.
Dave Duffield: Has much changed over the last, say, eighteen months? How would you describe the current state of the corporate bookmaking world?
Richard Irvine: I think it’s much better. I think there’s still a long way to go, I think there’s still a lot of head winds for us, which is really disappointing. I think we’re still getting let down massively by the vast majority of regulators out there who just can’t be bothered to do anything.
It was really at a tipping point a couple of years ago, it was just like what’s the point? You can’t get on anywhere, you get treated like shit, and I think its a combination that the bookies didn’t really want the bad press they were getting, so a lot of them decided, “You know what? Let’s just open it up and just start betting people a lot more.” Then also Racing New South Wales have done what they’re done, that’s helped a lot, it’s helped enormously in New South Wales.
It’s better, I’d say we’re probably half way down the road of where we need to be, and there’s a very, very crucial period coming up in the next month or so with the fallout, I guess you could call it, of the O’Farrell review. Then also seeing what Racing Victoria are going to do, I’ve been campaigning really hard for Racing Victoria to bring in minimum bet laws and so have a lot of other people, simply because the way I see it is if Racing New South Wales and Racing Victoria both have minimum bet laws, it creates a really good platform that punters can bet on and know that they can get on and the hard work can be rewarded.
As for the other jurisdictions, hopefully they follow, but even if they don’t there’s still enough racing within Victoria and New South Wales to make it worthwhile for continuing with what we do, this pursuit and this hobby that we do.
Dave Duffield: Because with the minimum bet rules in New South Wales, I’m surprised that some of the people, we’ve got a cross section of people on our list, but a lot of people aren’t even familiar with those minimum bet rules and when they apply and how they apply.
Do you want to just explain, it’s been around for a while now, but how that works and then why you think it would make sense to have that for Victoria as well?
Richard Irvine: It’s pretty similar, it’s basically based off what the rules used to be, well, still are for on-course bookies, and the thing is Dave, you’ve got to remember that for 100 years before this there’s been minimum bet laws placed on course bookies, and basically the corporates have not done anything because they’ve been sheltered up in the Northern Territory where the government and racing commission up there let them do anything.
What Racing New South Wales did is basically try to replicate the minimum bet laws that were placed on on-course bookmakers, on online bookmakers and they adjusted them a little bit to fit the online sphere. At the moment, on metropolitan Racing you get on to win $2,000 to win, and then on provincial and country racing you get on to win $1,000.
It’s great, if you’ve got a horse that you want to have a crack with you can line yourself up with a few different bookies and you should have no problem getting on to win $5,000 or so. I know that’s quite a big bet, probably a bit bigger than lot of other people’s bets, but sometimes you want to have those kind of bets, and even if you’re just an everyday punter you can bet with Bet365 or one of those places that offer really, really big odds the whole time and always get on to win at least $1,000.
It makes a huge difference to your bottom line over the course of a year. I’d say the minimum bet laws make a difference to most punters out there of being losing punters to either breaking even or winning, simply because you can get the best odds and really in today’s market it’s all about betting fixed odds at the best price. The tote’s pretty hopeless these days unless you’re an absolute superstar, no one can beat the tote.
Dave Duffield: With those minimum bet rules in New South Wales, how’s that affected their overall health of the industry? Because I think some of the bookmakers before it came in were crying poor, but it seems like it’s been a net positive.
Richard Irvine: I think so. I don’t think it’s made a whole lot of difference really to anything other than we the punters are getting a fair go, and I think that’s a strong enough argument in all. It simply comes to what do the bookies do? They offer you the chance to win, that’s their product, they should be made to actually be true to their product.
I think that it certainly hasn’t hurt turnover in New South Wales. I don’t think it’s hurt the bookies much at all, I think ironically the bookies who don’t want to abide by it, in particular William Hill have been going absolutely terrible, and you look at Sports Bet who have been betting everyone across the board mostly, there’s still a bit of ambiguity there, there’s still a few punters they’re not betting for reasons best known to themselves, they’re having stellar results.
When it came in, Vlandy’s was asked that question, will it have a positive impact on the bottom line for Racing New South Wales, and he said, “Probably not. We’re not doing it because of that, we’re just doing it because it’s the right thing to do”, and it absolutely is.
I think the same thing would happen down in Victoria if they brought it in. It’s certainly not going to hurt turnover, it will probably have a bit of a positive impact, but I think where the problem does lie is if you keep doing nothing for all us punters we are going to start to drift away and do other things and bet offshore and all that kind of stuff, because it’s just too hard. I’m not trying to say this to beat my own drum, I’ve run into quite a few people lately who are are semi-astute punters who like to have a punt, they’re not the smartest going around but they’re pretty astute, and they’ve just said to me, “I can’t be bothered anymore. It’s just too hard, you get shut out all the time, I’ve just moved on”, and they’re not involved in the industry anymore. That’s happening more and more, or they’re betting in Hong Kong and stuff where they’re getting a bit of a fair go.
What I do think is, back to my main point, if all the racing jurisdictions keep turning their back on us you’re going to disenfranchise this generation and the next one, and I think we’re going to end up where England is, where there’s fuck all prize money and racing is not prospering at all, and if it wasn’t for the many, many billionaires that are over in Europe and have racing as a bit of a plaything and pump a lot of money into it, English racing wouldn’t look as rosy as it is. I think that if we continue down this road of ignoring all the punters that want to be involved, we’ll probably head there.
Racing Victoria, you look at their Melbourne Cup Carnival, they have incredible prizemoney and they’re pushing themselves towards the English model where it’s all about the corporates and no punters with any idea can get on, and you look at Royal Ascot Carnival, I think the maximum prize money for any of those big races is £500,000. That’s nothing compared to what Racing Victoria give out over the Melbourne Cup Carnival. I don’t have a huge understanding of how all the financial mechanics of prizemoney works, but it seems pretty obvious to me that heading down the English path is not going to be great.
Dave Duffield: New South Wales seem to be going well, it would be great if it was in Victoria as well. What are their arguments against bringing it in? I know racing is an industry full of conflicts of interest or vested interests, but what’s their argument against bringing it in?
Richard Irvine: They had an argument last year, they said jurisdictionally it’s too hard for us to bring it in, because their legislation doesn’t allow it. I wrote to Martin Pakula who is the racing minister down there, and he seemed to have a pretty compassionate view to all of us, and without saying that he would definitely legislate a minimum bet law if Racing Victoria wanted to have one, he said that he’s very open to having a talk with them and he acknowledges that there is a big disconnect between punters and bookmakers and he’s expecting Racing Victoria to monitor it and try and fix it up.
That was their excuse last year, and that’s the big thing I want this year, is that if they don’t want to bring it in this year they need to stand behind the real reason they’re doing it, which is purely a financial one, and they place the importance of the advertising dollars and the revenue that they’re supposed to be getting off the bookies through their product fees, they place more importance on that than the revenue they’re going to get from all of us, let’s call us winning punters, or punters who don’t lose enough to feed the corporates what they want.
They need to stand behind that and go, “No, we’re going with the corporate bookies and ultimately we don’t care about all you punters out there”, because that’s the truth. Of course, they’re never going to say that, but that is the truth.
I wrote a letter to Bernard Saundry about a month ago and I thought it was pretty strategic in the sense that I laid out every excuse they could possibly come up with, put a counter to it, and I think it was pretty emphatic what I wrote, that’s my opinion of it all, and put the pressure on them when they come out to either admit that you want to side with the corporate bookmakers and let’s not forget who these corporates are, they’ve come to Australia in the last five years or so, Australian racing was doing just fine before them and they come in and tried to implement their business models upon Australian racing, which is in my opinion deeply, deeply unethical. It offers nothing to the community at large, and Racing Victoria are potentially going to side with them.
All the corporates would do just fine if they had to bet everyone. The biggest problem the corporates face is that a lot of them have spent so much money gaining access to the Australian market and they’re looking at their balance sheets going, “Shit, we’ve got these huge setup costs and we’re really, really struggling to recoup them. Where can we cut costs?” And they’re cutting costs in every possible way, and one of the easiest and the quickest ways is to cut out anybody who wins.
But in saying all that, just by cutting out people who win isn’t the answer really, because I come back to William Hill. William Hill are just going awful and it’s simply because, I believe, because they’re so determined and obsessed with getting rid of anybody who wins that they’ve lost their place in the industry and no one really bets with them anymore because they’re shutting out anyone and their turnover has plummeted. I think last year they made 20 million dollars profit, but you’ve to remember they made that 20 million on a 700 million dollar outlay. That’s just diabolical.
I honestly believe the best thing the corporates can do is start betting everyone to win $1,000, forget about all this client management stuff, it really doesn’t work, and concentrate on being the most innovative bookmakers with their apps and their websites, having the best promotions and having the best marketing.
Also, spend more time doing a bit of form. You’ve got CrownBet who have come into the market who have really, really strong form. No one really knows how they do it, but they do it very, very well, they’re very, very hard to beat. I can’t beat them, I’d be surprised if there’s many people out there who turn over a significant amount who can beat them, and good luck to them. They’re better at it than me, that’s fine, that’s what the industry should be about. The best of the best should rise to the top and it should be a fair and balanced market for everybody.
At the end of the day, it’s a financial market and that leads me into what the O’Farrell review is, and I can chat about it a bit too if you’re interested, but I believe that the gambling market in Australia is a financial market and that it should be regulated like all financial markets in Australia.
What the bookmakers or the corporate bookmakers want to do is make out as if they’re just any other business in Australia going about business, and there is rules in ACCC and all that kind of stuff that businesses don’t have to do business with anyone if they don’t want to. If Coles don’t want you in their shopping center they kick you out, but what Coles can’t do is tell you that they’re going to sell you milk and then actually sell you water, or something like that.
That’s why I think that gambling in Australia doesn’t come under the rules of normal consumer legislation, that it actually is a financial marketplace and needs to be regulated like that. There is no regulation around it at the moment because the online industry has grown a lot in the last decade or so, and only now is the government starting to catch up and say, “Okay, we need to have a look at what’s going on here.” That’s why they’ve commissioned that O’Farrell review.
Dave Duffield: With some of the tactics used by bookmakers, it can be you log in and you see a different set of prices to the general public or those prices are actually completely removed. That’s a very uneven playing field.
Richard Irvine: That’s just disgusting William Hill are doing that, let’s just be frank. It’s disgusting what they’re doing, and Tom Waterhouse, who runs it, has employed that tactic. I don’t have a problem with corporate bookmakers doing their best to get around legislation and stuff, and if they got a free ride up in the Northern Territory for a long time, okay fair enough, they’re all just doing their best, as punters we do our best to try and get the best odds. When a regulators comes in and puts forward legislation and say, “This is what’s happening”, and most of the industry accepted and they said, “Yeah, fair enough. When a regulator tells us to do something, we will always do it.”
However, William Hill decided that they weren’t going to do that and the regulations came in from Racing New South Wales, so to be tricky and cunning the first thing they did, which we knew when the legislation was getting drawn up and we the punters got asked for our opinion, we said, “Well, the first thing bookies will do is try and offer us less.”
Racing New South Wales put in writing that they can’t do that, but that still didn’t stop Tom at William Hill doing it, and then when that wasn’t quite tight enough and Racing New South Wales forced them to stop doing that, they brought in this other legislation where I was one of the people who got an incredible onerous long letter from their financial department saying, “We don’t know or believe where the money is coming from for you to fund your betting account, therefore you need to give us the last three years of tax returns, the last three years of tax assessments, and your last three payslips.” I don’t even know what a tax assessment is, I don’t work at the moment so I don’t have a payslip, and why the hell should I have to give William Hill three years tax returns?
Obviously William Hill knew what they were doing, they were like, “Well, we’ll send it to all these people, no punter is going to give us all their information, and therefore if they don’t give it to us we’re not going to bet them.”
That happened too, and I think that’s just disgusting conduct and I think that a huge part of it was ego, and I think that Tom and Rob Waterhouse did it because they don’t like to be told by Peter Vlandy’s what to do, and they try to be cunning and think that they’re smarter than the game.
I think it will catch up with them big time, because I think Racing New South Wales will, if they have to, take them to court. If that’s what William Hill really want to do, if they really want to go to court over it, they probably will. Then worse than that, it’s had a really, really bad, bad impact on William Hill’s business and I think that the smartest thing Tom can do as CEO of William Hill is get over this obsession with not betting anyone. I know the reason Tom is doing this is because he says that the turnover taxes that were imposed on William Hill are way too onerous, and they can’t turn a buck, or they can’t look after clients like me and all the other winning or break-even clients out there because the turnover tax is too high.
But let’s get serious, it’s not that high. Sure it’s too high if you’re betting best tote at 106% and then you’ve got to pay Racing Victoria, Racing New South Wales 2 or 3% of that. Yeah, it’s probably too high then, but no one’s telling them to bet best tote, and as I said in the letter that I wrote to Bernard Saundry, best tote is not an argument when it comes to the minimum bet law, because minimum bet law doesn’t even cover best tote. Where it is an argument is with the fixed odds stuff, and all William Hill need to do is if they’re betting 110%, turn their market into 112%, pass the increased turnover that they have to pay onto us, the punters. We can handle that, so there really is no excuse for what Tom is doing.
I think he needs to get over it and get on with trying to get William Hill, which used to be Sportingbet at the forefront of gambling where they were the bookie that everyone gravitated towards. I don’t know anyone that bets with them now, and they seem to have zero profile within the industry. You never hear about them and they’re just sort of dying a slow death.
I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for them considering how much Tom has done to try and stop a fair marketplace coming in, and it’s so ironic because Tom has an incredible life, and good luck to him, the Waterhouses are very, very smart people, but that’s only because his grandfathers made the family fortune via regulated betting rings. Now while we’re all trying to get a tiny, tiny piece of the action he’s the number one person that’s standing in the way of a fair and regulated marketplace. If he acknowledged it was time for a fair marketplace he could go a long way to getting Racing Victoria over the line, because most of the corporate bookmakers are adhering to Racing New South Wales’ minimum bet laws, and the three biggest corporate partners of Racing Victoria are CrownBet, Sports Bet, and The Tab, and all three of them bet everybody as it is and from what I can tell, would embrace the minimum bet law.
Craig Nugent, who’s the COO of Tab said on radio that he’s okay with it. Matt Tripp, who’s the CEO CrownBet has said he thinks that they’re a good idea and that they bet everybody, and SportsBet bet everyone, I haven’t actually heard them endorse the minimum bet law. You’ve got most of the major corporate partners of Racing Victoria over the line, so why not just go with it?
Dave Duffield: You mentioned you don’t know anyone that bets with William Hill anymore, but I reckon you’d know a few that bet with Citibet. It’s gone from very much an underground Asian exchange, to become more mainstream all the time because people have limited places to bet and they’re kind of forced to look at other options. I can’t see how Citibet doesn’t continue to grow, and that’s got to be scary for the industry and the funding of the industry.
Richard Irvine: Yeah, no it is, it definitely is and I think what it really highlights is how archaic the tote is, and all this betting on the tote into a 118-120% market, it’s going to die a death. I speak to people who know the industry really well and they just say, “Seriously, who the hell is going to be betting on the tote in five or ten years from now?” And it’s true, why would you? The big advantage of Citibet for people who don’t know is that you get a really juicy rebate, anywhere from 5% up to 24% I think you can get, and you probably average 12-15% rebate. That’s huge on tote odds.
Most punters, let’s say most punters lose, they probably do 10-15% on their money over the year and then suddenly if you’re getting a 12-16% rebate, well suddenly you are breaking even at it. If you can break even as a punter you’re doing pretty well if you’re just a social punter betting week to week and not putting a whole lot of effort into and just doing it as a bit of hobby, and that’s sort of what Citibet does. Now, what do I think of Citibet? I think that there’s not a huge amount of volume on Australian racing, and are you asking me in terms of Australian racing or are you asking me in terms of Hong Kong racing, or just in general?
Dave Duffield: From an Australian punter’s perspective.
Richard Irvine: I hear a few people dabbling on it. I don’t think a huge amount of people are betting on Australian racing on it, and that’s just from my little view. There’s certainly people betting on it, and yeah I think it’s really bad for Australian racing. I don’t think that people should bet on it, because it’s first and foremost, above all of this bet argument, racing has to come first. Racing needs to be funded, and funded very, very well, and then the next tier is everyone else who are the participants making money out of it, and of course punters have as much right as everyone else to make money out of the industry.
Citibet isn’t great for the funding model of Australian racing, because obviously the money goes up there and it’s lost to the tote, but it’s a very compelling argument and I completely understand why people are like, “Well, screw it. I’m going to go and bet on Citibet because one, I can get on, and instead of losing I’m going to break even, or I’m going to win.”
So I understand why they do it. It’s interesting in terms of Hong Kong, and it’s sort of a bit relevant to the Australian market, is that the volume on Citibet on Hong Kong is incredible, like the stock exchange it’s just so deep and you can do whatever you want. You can go tomorrow, on Wednesday night, and have a million bucks on a horse easily. I’ve asked a few people why the Hong Kong Jockey Club let it continue, because they’re pretty ferocious in closing down anyone who does wrong by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, but for whatever reason they seem to let it roll.
People tell me it’s because most of the people who are on Citibet laying these horse put a huge amount of money back onto the Hong Kong tote, and the Hong Kong tote has a big rebate system where people get about 10% back on their bets. For whatever reason, the Hong Kong Jockey Club are happy enough with it, it would seem. I’m just speculating.
I guess the idea here is that Australia needs to try and follow that model a bit too, and I’m not saying allow Citibet and then a 10% rebate so all the money heads up at Citibet, but they need to address some sort of rebate system or a very large reduction in tote take outs.
One pleasing thing is I do know that Racing Victoria, and even Racing New South Wales do have a pretty open mind to reduced takeout rates, but the biggest problem is that The Tab don’t really want to do that and I understand that because The Tab’s a public company and they’re trying to make as much money as possible.
I think everyone probably acknowledges that if they keep their head in the sand too long, the bird’s going to fly and it’s going to be pretty hard to turn things around, just because fixed odds is growing so quickly and all it’s going to do is lead to probably reduced prize money, I would guess, because that’s obviously what happen there’s less money turned over.
Dave Duffield: Just to finish up with then, onto sport. It seems like in-play betting has been demonised for some reason, do you think in the short or medium term that will actually be legalised?
Richard Irvine: I don’t know. I don’t really bet on sport much, I think it’s crazy that they haven’t allowed it, but it doesn’t surprise me. I think that the clubs lobby and also the racing lobby got right in there, and I think it was pretty neat and easy for the government to say we’re not going to allow it because of problem gambling.
I can understand that there’s a lot of sports traders out there who are really disappointed, because there’s such a huge fluid market out there and they want to start betting on it, and I’m surprised. I honestly thought that they would allow it, I think that I don’t know, probably not.
There’s such a ground swell against bookies in the general public, they’re sick of how much they’ve tried to infiltrate our sporting culture, and I also think too the brashness and the arrogance of the bookies, in particular William Hill, to bring in that click to call feature, eventually that stuff catches up with you. You think you’re too clever and too smart, but then the government go, “Yeah, actually no, we’re not going to allow it”, and it seems like they do everything they can to make it illegal to do the click to call thing, and then also there’s the in-play thing. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to come in any time soon, which is a shame.
Dave Duffield: Definitely, it’s a real shame. Something we’ve waiting for for a long time, but it doesn’t feel any closer now than it has been for a number of years.
Richard Irvine: Yeah, the whole idea, the whole offshore review was kind of a bit strange. I think that the corporate bookmakers were pushing for it, like they were trying to get the government’s attention to say, “Hey, there’s a whole lot of money disappearing offshore”, when actually I don’t think there is a whole lot. What they were trying to do is speed up the process of in-play being allowed because they were trying to say, “The money’s leaking offshore because people are betting offshore and in-play.” Yeah, they are, but the irony is that a lot of the money that’s leaking offshore on in-play betting is professional money, which are the corporates you don’t really want. What they want to do is bring attention to a bit of money leaking offshore, and then also speed up the process of in-play.
The reason all the corporates spent so much money gaining access to Australia is because they knew the in-play wasn’t in play, I guess you could say, and they’ve absolutely filled up in Euro profits so they wanted to get set here and bring in in-play and then the rivers of gold would start flowing.
But it backfired on them, and I personally think that there was a lot of lobbying from the Australian Wagering Council to get that review to happen, and it seems like the former CEO of the Australian Wagering Council is very tight with the Liberal party and it seemed that he sort of got everything going, this is just pure speculation by me, and then it backfired. Probably a big reason why it backfired is because bookies went ahead and started doing click to call on their own, and the government were like, “No, if you’re smart-asses, then we’re going to pull you into line.” So there you go.
Dave Duffield: There you go. All right, interesting to have a chat today, Richard. Really appreciate your time. Well done on the work you’ve done so far, and good luck with Fair Wagering Australia.
Richard Irvine: Thanks for your time, Dave. Cheers.