Minimum bet laws might not make much difference to the casual punter, but to those serious about the game, bookmakers with all the odds in their favour are finally being challenged.
Backed a winner recently with a corporate bookmaker? What about a couple? What about showing profits over a month or two, including some juicy wins?
You might’ve found yourself on the end of punting’s raw deal: win too much, and you’re likely to be banned.
The above might not sound legal or correct, but it’s what is happening despite Australia’s consumer laws.
If you prove that you know the races or sport better than the bookmakers, and you’ll be watched closely, limited, or regretfully told services will not longer be available, and betting restrictions will apply.
Betting operators simply don’t have to take bets from those they think are winners, and they’ve won court cases to secure that fact.
Of course, bookmakers will happily take money from consistent or overall losers. From the Melbourne Cup-only punter to more problem gamblers, most average punters can make significant bets without restrictions, and they’re encouraged. Betting credit, free bonus bets, and enticements such as tickets to a big game if you’re losing a lot are all on offer.
Sound fair? It’s a raw deal and almost comical – if they can’t beat you, they ban you. If they can, they encourage you to keep losing.
It’s wrong to suggest all bookmakers operate and certainly there are noted exceptions, but a number of larger operators that take place significant advertising and promotions are part of this game against winners. They’re your mates on social media, but that all changes if you’re actually beating them.
A win for punters
After a great deal of pressure, particularly due to highly commendable action already taken by Racing NSW in September 2014, Racing Victoria has finally committed to bringing in minimum bet laws in 2016.
It’s overdue. NSW got the jump on Victoria and most punters are satisfied with the changes that have allowed for a fairer playing field. The old rivalry between the states has helped punters, for once.
Previously, Racing Victoria had said “legal reasons and operational challengers” were given for why minimum bet laws were impossible to bring in, as much as they said they wanted to. Evidently, those have been taken care of.
For the uninitiated, minimum bet laws (MBL) means that bookmakers are compelled to take bets from nearly all comers. That means they can no longer only take on the losers, but are forced to take on decent sized bets from those that win as well.
The major change in the proposed framework for online corporate bookmakers, or Wagering Service Providers (WSPs) as the consultation paper calls them, is a minimum risk slated at $1000 for win bets on metropolitan and country races, and $500 for place bets.
However, racing wouldn’t be racing without needing to accommodate all parties. And the current MBL framework includes a stack of conditions and loopholes that amount to frustratingly little for savvy punters.
Breaking down every single one will require too many hours for here, but there are some glaring problems with the framework as it stands.
To start with obvious problems (and you’ll need to have the framework in front of you here to look at), the amounts of risk taken on win and place bets are less than Racing NSW’s laws on metropolitan racing, which is where big betting generally happens. On the other hand, country races in Victoria can be bet for more, which is useful.
But to get straight into the meat of the issue, the new minimum bet laws are set to be strictly governed by race times.
Punters will only be able to be guaranteed a bet 30 minutes before a race, and cut-off two minutes before advertised race time. Add in that punters can only bet one horse once, no matter if odds change, creates limits that when combined, are vastly too strict.
The fact that bigger bets for punters will only be taken 30 minutes before a race is a huge problem for all punters, amateur or serious.
Markets are framed by form analysts and traders days in advance of most races.
Odds are published mid-week for Saturday races by most operators. RV comments that this “Focus[es] on the time period where the majority of betting activity takes place”.
This is a strange call.
It doesn’t go close to explaining why odds that are published can’t be bet on as soon as they become available. Punters are appealing for a 9am start to minimum bets on race days; it could go even further if punters were truly being favoured.
Perhaps even more curious though is the two-minute rule, where bets won’t be accepted in the two minutes before a race. This is, in RV’s words, to “manage adverse exposure”.
Have bookmakers suddenly stopped managing risk? Again adding in the fact that each horse can only be bet on once in a 28 minute period, and book managers are now laughing.
Punters aren’t expecting to go from being limited or severely restricted to suddenly having a free-for-all, but the way the changes are slated won’t let punters duke it out with bookmakers the way it was once.
Let Mark Read set the scene, from my interview with him last year:
Read feels the punter is hard done by in this day and age, thanks to ‘greedy, opportunistic’ UK corporates that has seen wagering in Australia stagnate.
Read noted that in his day he’d take on big punters. “If I saw someone had an edge, I’d bet with them as well.
“I thought [Saintly] was a good thing in the Melbourne Cup,” Read said.
“I backed him myself and Kerry Packer rang up and said ‘I want a million on Saintly’ five minutes before the race.
“I put it straight on the NSW tote.”
Let’s not forget that Read continued this during the online era via the old IASBet operation.
Racing Victoria can’t introduce such a limited minimum bet arrangement.
Even Crownbet, who made an early PR-savvy move and went early, introducing a minimum bet allowance across all Australian thoroughbred racing, didn’t stipulate a two-minute before race limit. So which bookmakers are pushing this?
Punters remain handicapped, for reasons that aren’t clear except to those who have managed to shout down the idea of a minimum bet law in the past.
Racing Victoria is currently taking submissions on the proposed frameworks of laws, closing by 5pm Friday 29 July, 2016. This column will be submitted. Let’s hope they hear enough common sense to take the side of the punter.