Race to the bot­tom

A de­ci­sion about the TAB needs to be made be­fore it’s too late

The Sunday Times - - OPINION - Tom Percy

IT’S the sound that sends a chill through the aver­age punter’s heart; the protest siren. Or it used to. In re­cent times its ter­ror has been re­moved for a lot of us. Un­less, of course, you are one of the dwin­dling con­tin­gent of loyal WA pun­ters who still choose to bet with our lo­cal TAB.

The whole is­sue of the sale of the WA TAB came home to me again last week­end.

I had a strong tip for the favourite in the last race in Syd­ney, which I shared with one of my mates. Af­ter it passed the post I was safe, the money was in the bank, hav­ing bet with my cor­po­rate book­maker ac­count.

My friend how­ever wasn’t so lucky, and his (un­print­able) text mes­sage of frus­tra­tion af­ter the lodg­ing of a protest by the sec­ond rider echoed his cha­grin. Which was mag­ni­fied a few min­utes later when the protest was up­held and his in­vest­ment (un­like mine which was paid out in full) went straight down the drain.

He asked me the ques­tion that silently thou­sands of de­fect­ing WA pun­ters have been ask­ing for some years now: “Who in their right mind would bet with the WA TAB?”.

And it’s a fair ques­tion. You would need to have a sense of loy­alty that was stronger than your fi­nan­cial ac­u­men.

The big­ger cor­po­rate op­er­a­tors have long been pay­ing out on both horses in protests, and they seem to be do­ing OK out of it. So why don’t we?

The sim­ple fact about the sur­vival of the WA TAB is that like any busi­ness it needs to en­gage ag­gres­sively with its com­peti­tors to avoid leak­age of its clien­tele.

There is no doubt that the sale of the TAB should be a last re­sort for gov­ern­ment; it does a huge job in sup­port­ing the rac­ing in­dus­try. With­out it, each of the three codes (thor­ough­breds, har­ness and grey­hounds) would all be fac­ing an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

But on the other side of the coin, the longer any pro­posed sale is de­layed the less the busi­ness will be worth. Un­less there is a fairly rapid turn­around in its for­tunes, the value of the TAB as a saleable as­set will con­tinue to erode, as it has done now for more than a decade.

So what can be done to make the lo­cal prod­uct more com­pet­i­tive? How do we start to claw back the share of the mar­ket that we have shed to the multi­na­tion­als?

Pay­ing both horses in protests would be a good start.

The op­tion of “best tote” bet­ting (where your win­ning bet is paid at the top odds of the three Aus­tralian TABs) would also be a bonus. Some of the cor­po­rates al­ready of­fer this and do so quite prof­itably

And then there is the no-brainer of loy­alty points. For ev­ery bet you have, you earn bonus points which can be re­deemed for prizes or free bets. This is a very suc­cess­ful pulling fac­tor for a num­ber of the big­ger op­er­a­tors. Why we don’t have it here is un­fath­omable.

The at­trac­tion of free bonus bets when you open an ac­count is also some­thing miss­ing from the WA prod­uct. Some of the big­ger op­er­a­tors of­fer dol­lar-for-dol­lar bonus bets to en­tice first-time ac­count hold­ers to join up, and it seems to work very well. Why can’t we do that?

And then there are the weekly spe­cials. These usu­ally in­clude be­ing able to back a short-priced favourite like Winx at around even money ($2) when the true price in the mar­ket is around 10/1-on ($1.10). Ob­vi­ously there are lim­its on the amount of those wa­gers (usu­ally up to $50) but they are mas­sively pop­u­lar to the smaller punter. Which is ex­actly the de­mo­graphic that needs to be re­tained.

Another of these is the (heav­ily ad­ver­tised) in­no­va­tion by an East Coast agency to pay AFL bets once your side leads by 24 points at any stage dur­ing the game. Again there are ceil­ings to such bets, but they are a mas­sively pop­u­lar prod­uct and one to which the WA TAB cur­rently has no an­swer.

The re­cently in­tro­duced Bonus Pick op­tion of­fered by the WA TAB is a wel­come in­no­va­tion. But be­ing gen­er­ally re­stricted to once a day and in­volv­ing a fairly mod­est odds in­crease, it is hardly the rad­i­cal in­no­va­tion that is needed.

Other “spe­cials” of­fered over the past year on T20 cricket and the EPL have been in­ter­est­ing, but hardly ag­gres­sive enough to make the sort of dif­fer­ence that’s needed to sur­vive.

I’m all for re­tain­ing the TAB in WA (prefer­ably gov­ern­ment) hands. But there would be lit­tle point in do­ing so un­less it is a highly com­pet­i­tive, vi­able busi­ness.

For too many years the TAB has been run like a mo­nop­oly, which for decades it ef­fec­tively was. In the ab­sence of com­peti­tors it could dic­tate its own terms. Those times are, how­ever, long gone. If you bet un­der the odds these days, you do so at your own peril.

Un­less the com­pla­cent at­ti­tude on the part of WA TAB man­age­ment (and gov­ern­ment) changes, it might as well be sold now.

In three of four years there may not be any­thing worth sell­ing. It may al­ready be too late for the protest. Tom Percy is a Perth QC and can be heard on 6IX at 7.40am on Thurs­days. @per­cyqc

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.