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FEATURE: The sustainability of racing wagering in Australia explored via new paper

The accusations thrown at thoroughbred breeders are unjust. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Editor
31st August, 2015
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2899 Reads

The ecosystem of racing is substantially supported by punters, but it’s fair to say racing doesn’t revolve around the punter.

Wagering revenue is down, the racing ecosystem is fragmented, and the future of the racing industry is being tested – as much as we love it, it’s not the only game in town anymore.

The Roar has obtained a discussion paper that examines the current state of the industry from the wagering participants’ stance and provides breakdowns of the state of play across the TABs, the exchange market of Betfair, and the Corporate bookmakers. The Roar understands industry leaders are digesting the paper and it may open up further discussion on future funding options.

The Roar has been granted permission to publish key information and host the file.

The paper is authored by Greg Conroy, Managing Director of start-up wagering tool, RewardBet – but he’s received significant input from many industry participants including professional punters.

Conroy has been part of the wagering and gaming industry in Australia for his entire career and adult life, with a twenty-year career with Tabcorp, moving on to become the head of product with Betfair as one of the first employees, and has been a punter every day for thirty years. To say he has significant passion about the racing industry and its future is to leave him short!

Conroy spoke to RSN’s Shane Anderson about the paper and the issues surrounding wagering in an interview late last week.

Conroy’s paper is extensive, and takes a bottom-up approach to identify how we arrived at the current point, the issues facing all operators, and the inter-relationships between wagering operators, punters, both recreational and professional, and industry participants within the broader operating environment.

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How different punters want to bet

Different punters, different requirements (via Greg Conroy)

Conroy presents the wagering market as incredibly competitive, with almost zero product differentiation and customer churn rampant.

There is significant insight to be gained for all readers and it’s an important view from someone who’s been across all sides of the wagering industry, writing with genuine passion rather than the shackled opinions that come within the industry or corporate employment scenarios.

A sample of some of the issues identified in Conroy’s paper:

  1. Totalizator Operators (Tabcorp, Ubet, WA TAB)

The TABs are the mainstay of the racing industry, yet they are facing a range of issues.

The problems facing Australian Retail TABS

The problems facing the TABs (via Greg Conroy)

  • Retail networks are very expensive to run and are shrinking in size and reach.
  • There is a large bunch of loyal ‘TAB’ recreational customers, many of whom bet in cash (for various reasons) but they are an ageing demographic which is not being replaced at an acceptable rate by younger people. Furthermore the complexity of offerings provided across their channels has crippled the funnel for new player engagement.
  • The product development process is very convoluted, risk-averse and not optimum. This is partly due to the staggering number of channels (eg, web, apps, tickets, PhoneTAB, self-service terminals, on-course, etc) and the complexity of their Technology systems but also due to the large number of bet types.
  • TABs have been creeping up their take-out rates over the years effectively to prop up their wagering returns at the expense of truly innovative and engaging wagering products.
  • When they had a state-based monopoly, revenue increased at higher levels than CPI almost without effort and this was the benchmark for wagering management each year. Maybe this developed a culture of repressed ideas, innovation and creativity and certainly risk-aversion with regards to a true-retail strategy.
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They require a major competitive advantage that will see them once more become the preferred wagering operator for both recreational and professional punters and furthermore allow them to use their significant retail and on-course presence to dominate the marketing funnel for new customer engagement.

  1. The Corporates have attracted many recreational customers through their very attractive tote derivative products. Why would someone fill out a paper ticket, line up and put it through a TAB terminal and bet into a pari-mutuel win pool at 15%, where they can whip out their phone or use a Smartphone application to place the same bet into a 109% pool where they are guaranteed to better or match the best return of all options?

Their current business model typically works to acquire as many ‘recreational’ customers as they can who are not likely to win long term and challenge their profitability.

  1. Betfair:

Betfair is still very important as a part of the Australian wagering ecosystem. When it is down, most Corporates have trouble framing and selling a fixed odds bet, as Betfair has become the market barometer and a significant one at that.

This is because it is the de-facto residence of any punter that has any ability whatsoever in Australian racing. So every professional and semi-professional who has been banned or heavily restricted by corporate and retail bookies is now using Betfair.

It should be said that the Betfair founders and Conroy have always positioned ‘laying’ as being about good or bad value – rather than the willingness of a punter to ‘back a horse to lose’.

Although the integrity question was raised by the media and industry about profiteering from horses losing, it is an uninformed proposition, as a punter has always been able to back a horse to lose – in fact most punters do it unwittingly when they select one or more horses to win.

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It is just the other side of the bet and Betfair should not be singled out for providing an easier way to achieve this.

It appears that ‘lay betting’ is an appealing option for many punters (not just professionals) and it is another product aspect that is a requirement of a solid wagering ecosystem.

The paper doesn’t just look at problems, but discusses solutions as well. Although Conroy does understandably mention his own product in RewardBet, that’s a given considering it was created to help address the engagement of racing punters, the complexity of the current methods of betting, and in sum, help maximise the funding revenue of the industry.

Conroy describes RewardBet to The Roar as follows:

RewardBet provides a better way for all customers to interact when placing their bets. Behind its apparent simplicity, it provides a myriad of options allowing total control over your betting transactions and most importantly, for recreational punters, the ability to bet like professionals so that your bank lasts longer and you have the best opportunity to maximise your returns in the long run.

As recent first-time users of RewardBet, we were impressed by its speed and simplicity, and understand the role it could play for all punters.

The extensive document is available below and further discussion can either be held directly with Greg Conroy, or on The Roar below.

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» Reboot: Innovation and Ecosystems.

Ideas and Discussion for Sustainability of Racing Wagering in Australia and Implications for similar world-wide Totalizator Implementations.

» Link [PDF – 2.9 MB]