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