Peter V'Landys Racing NSW

G’day Peter

Hope you’re well. Congratulations on the announcement of the Golden Eagle. I’m not sure about the name personally, but it’s an innovative new concept and promises to be a huge event. I’ll be watching.

After hearing you on Racing.com, there’s another topic I wanted to talk to you about.

If I may quote you from that interview…

“My job is to maximise returns to the participants in New South Wales. The revenue that I get, the dividends that are given to them, is prizemoney. The more prizemoney I can return to participants, the better. I’ll continue to look, and review, and analyse any opportunity to maximise the revenue for New South Wales participants.

“If I don’t do that, I’m negligent and shouldn’t be here. Any CEO has to maximise dividends to their shareholders. My shareholders in this situation is the participants. We will continue to look at all elements of our racing and analyse everything we do to maximise revenues for the racing industry.”

Of course, your revenue is derived from turnover through race field fees, and your customers are punters.

There’s plenty of ways to segment a customer base. One receiving a lot of attention in racing is age demographics, with a focus on drawing in young punters. That’s important. But I’d like to talk about segmentation of a different kind: individual punter success.

Winners & Losers

A very basic segmentation results in two groups: winning punters and losing punters. When you look at winning punters, a couple of things are obvious:

  • They’re having positive experiences, so will (a) return often and for longer, and (b) refer others to the industry
  • Their success gives them the financial capacity to constantly reinvest in turnover. They’ll continually increase their activity, meaning they’re able to provide larger (and growing) volumes of turnover to the industry than losing punters may be able to.

For racing, these factors make the lifetime customer value of winning punters enormous. If racing seeks to increase turnover and thus returns to participants, they’re perhaps the most valuable customer segment.

Yet we have a situation where barriers are consistently put in place to stop winning punters from injecting turnover into the industry.

To their eternal credit, Racing NSW were the first racing body to put in place much-needed minimum bet rules to allow all punters to bet on racing. The limits are in place from 9am on raceday, allowing punters to collect a maximum of $2,000 on metro racing, and $1,000 otherwise.

As we approach the five-year anniversary of the introduction of minimum bet rules, it’s perhaps a good time to review the situation and consider some changes. For your consideration:

Betting Prior To Raceday

This activity has increased significantly. For Saturday metro racing, almost all corporate bookmakers publish markets on Wednesday, with some recently adding pre-raceday promotions such as boosted prices on Friday. However, there’s no protection for winning punters prior to raceday: they simply have bets of any volume refused.

This allows the bookmaker to engage in a simple process in order to restrict turnover. Before raceday, they can refuse bets, or accept extremely small wagers, from punters who they know through customer profiling to be successful. The information from these bets can then be used to massively shorten the price of any runner favoured by successful punters. By the time 9am raceday arrives, prices have been shortened to such a point where they no longer represent value to the punter, so he doesn’t place his wager.

This directly costs the industry turnover. It allows bookmakers to use market intelligence without having to take part in the market and accept turnover.

Minimum Bet Levels

As successful punters grow their bankroll, the obvious direction for them to take is to increase turnover. The current limits unfortunately place a punitive ceiling on their ability to do so. Five years on from their introduction, a MBL review may be appropriate.

NSW metropolitan racing is one of the world’s largest racing markets – yet punters are restricted to collecting only $2,000 on winning bets. Moreover, as metropolitan punters look to increase their turnover, the natural extension is the vibrant provincial racing circuit. For a punter to take the considerable time to properly analyse the form and prepare for a meeting, only to be restricted to winning $1,000 on a bet, is a troubling situation.

Consider an example of a winning punter who analyses a provincial meeting and finds a favourable proposition priced at $10. The fact he can’t turn over more than $100 on that single bet is a simple illustration of the level to which turnover is restricted. Given the inability to produce a return of any volume, the punter may conclude it’s simply not worth the time needed to analyse the form and bet.

Merger & Acquisition Activity

The Australian corporate bookmaking industry has undergone significant changes in recent years. Just some examples of this include:

  • The reduction of the Tom Waterhouse, Sportingbet, Centrebet, William Hill and CrownBet brands to a single brand: BetEasy
  • The acquisition of the Bookmaker.com.au and Betstar brands by Ladbrokes
  • The upcoming acquisition of Neds by Ladbrokes
  • The exit of the LuxBet brand
  • The acquisition of UBET by Tabcorp
  • The pending sale of the Western Australian TAB, which will lead to the TABtouch brand being absorbed into the operations of the successful bidder
  • The acquisition of the ClassicBet, TopBetta, betting.club and MadBookie brands by a single entity in PlayUp.

While winning punters are able to place minimum bets with a number of operators, their ability to do this has now been vastly reduced by the sharp reduction in the number of operators they have access to.

We now have operators of far greater size than previously, but with minimum bet obligations of only a fraction of the total sum of the brands and volumes they’ve absorbed.

For example, a punter who once may have had 15 corporate bookmaker accounts may now only have ten accounts due to mergers and acquisitions, considerably reducing his total minimum bet allowance. This directly costs the industry turnover.

Punter Education

Traditionally, successful punters may have been in the extreme minority, which perhaps leads to the assumption that these issues only impact a small number of punters. But in the information age, there are considerable resources available to improve the profitability of any punter.

Today’s punters are far better educated than ever before. They have unparalleled access to live and replayed racing (as well as barrier trials), racing news, reviews and previews, detailed online form guides with countless form factors, ratings services, tipping sites, databases and other tools.

This all adds up to a greater number of punters with the ability to bet successfully. In the current climate, that means a greater number of punters with their turnover restricted by bookmakers.

So Where To From Here?

Due to the above factors, some suggestions for reform are as follows:

  • The removal of time limits – if a bookmaker publishes a field on NSW racing, they are obliged to honour minimum bet rules at any time. Prices will continue to be impacted by betting prior to 9am raceday, however bookmakers would be required to accept the minimum turnover from all punters, rather than simply using their intelligence to shape prices while refusing turnover.
  • An increased and simplified minimum bet limit on all NSW racing, allowing any punter to bet to win $5,000 at any TAB meeting – metropolitan, provincial or country.

This would result in far simpler and fairer minimum bet rules for all punters and bookmakers. Most importantly, it could substantially increase turnover, giving Racing NSW the financial ability to reward participants with greater prize money.

Moves such as these would of course be met with pushback from corporate bookmakers and their lobbyists, who are concerned with profitability and share prices rather than betting turnover.

This is simply a reflection of the manner in which corporate bookmakers have chosen to structure their businesses: not as bookmakers, but as marketing giants dedicated only to finding and engaging losing punters.

Bookmakers operated profitably on Australian racing for well over a century while taking significant turnover from winning and losing punters. They will continue to do so with higher minimum bet limits, particularly on NSW racing which is one of the nation’s most popular betting products.

Indeed, the limits suggested above are merely in line with what, in some cases, on-course rails bookmakers are required to accept. These operators are primarily sole traders, whereas some corporate bookmakers are multinational conglomerates. One prominent operator paid its individual founder an annual wage of over AUD$450 million for the last financial year. In terms of who is able to accept slightly more turnover for the industry, the rules seem a little backward!

Recent changes in the industry’s operating behaviour are simply an importation of business practices, primarily from Britain where many of our largest corporate bookmakers are based. The terrible prizemoney on offer in British racing suggests this is not a model Australian racing should seek to replicate – quite the opposite.

Finally, this is not to suggest an “all-out” and unrestricted betting environment. There would still be minimum bet limits, a $5,000 liability limit, that can be enforced by any bookmaker. Furthermore, a substantial notice period of the changes would be appropriate to allow bookmakers to plan for the new rules and adjust their operations as they see fit.

Revised minimum bet rules could provide a significant boost to the industry and signal to all that New South Wales is the prime destination for punters wanting to inject increased turnover. Considering the amount of time, effort and work that must be involved in other projects – such as the introduction of new major events like the Golden Eagle – it’s hard to think of a simpler change that Racing NSW could make in order to increase betting turnover.

Many punters want to increase their turnover on New South Wales racing. They’re banging on the proverbial door, so how about letting them in Pete?

Mark Rhoden’s NSW Winners is the only way to punt on NSW race meetings.

Best Bets for Sydney metro and provincial meetings, with a full set of ratings included for the metro meetings as well.