A push by Victorian racing to boost the number of poker machines at racetrack venues has made news this week.
Former RVL CEO Bernard Saundry made the official submission to the Victorian Government’s review of gaming arrangements in 2016, calling for increased numbers of machines to be allowed at racecourse venues to help combat declining revenues for racing clubs.
With Saundry having departed RVL and a replacement CEO still yet to be appointed, Melbourne Racing Club chief executive Brodie Arnhold picked up the baton for racing this week.
Arnhold suggested that as established gambling venues, racing clubs are well placed to host the machines and could become suburban and regional gambling hubs. The clubs are not-for-profit entities that inject their money back into racing, as opposed to profit-driven hotels and venues.
In any case, the push is about increasing the number of machines at racing clubs to bring them into line with the more generous allowances those pubs and venues enjoy.
Arnhold’s arguments largely make sense in the context of the current situation.
The problem is that when it comes to poker machines, sense doesn’t really matter. The machines are a symbol of problem gambling and such is the poisonous climate that surrounds them, any action on pokies (short of blowing them up) will be met with deafening protest.
That’s a conversation (more a shouting match) that the racing industry, which has plenty of its own problems, doesn’t need to be part of.
Racing’s motivation is obvious: utilised properly, pokies are cash cows. If you set them up right they’ll just sit there and print money. As they’ve become for many footy clubs, they could be a major revenue booster for racing clubs as well.
The issue is the aforementioned image problems.
Pokies represent a base, ugly form of gambling: windowless rooms, rows and rows of people (some of them doubtlessly addicted) engaged in unsocial, brainless screen-staring and button-mashing.
Racing is obviously entirely dependent on gambling of its own, but it could do a lot better than to associate itself with that. Looking to grow by using other forms of gambling probably isn’t the most strategic path in any case. When that form is pokies, it becomes downright ugly.
Some see all gambling in a single light. Far from encouraging that, racing should be trying to combat it and differentiate itself from the mindless, skill-less gambling that pokies represent.
Less gambling, more punting.
Most keen or successful punters would be rightly insulted by the suggestion that their form analysis and considered betting bears any resemblance whatsoever to staring at a pokie screen.
Racing has its own gambling product and it’s far, far superior to anything that a poker machine can offer. What is racing doing to increase the spend on that?
Not enough. We bang on endlessly about how racing needs to put the punt and punters first. Make it more accessible, educate people, and take strategic decisions from the point of view of punters.
That’s how racing should draw people and revenue in, not with slot machines. Racing could do so much more to put its own product front-and-centre:
Constant references to “the Hong Kong model” can seem tired, but what can be learnt from there and elsewhere? Why is Happy Valley packed full of punters when the races are at Sha Tin? Why are our pubs bursting with patrons on major racing carnival days, yet racing clubs sit empty and unused? It’s the same for major sporting events.
Racing clubs should be punting hubs, not gambling hubs. There’s a big difference.