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Racing NSW and the punter's right to a decent bet

The big news is betting circles lately is the Racing NSW decision to force all wagering organisations licensed to bet on NSW racing to lay a decent bet! This is to be enforced via the racefields legislation which allows the governing body of NSW Racing to control who bets on their product. The debate has gotten louder over recent years as traditional bookmaking has gone out the window, replaced by European corporate beancounters who only want to lay bets to people who lose money hand over fist, aka mugs.

RacingNSW set new minimum bet guidelines for corporate bookmakers from September 1

AUSTRALIA’S biggest corporate bookmakers will be made to stand to lose a minimum of $2000 in a single wager on a NSW metropolitan thoroughbred race, RacingNSW has announced.

In response to claims corporate bookmakers are refusing to accept bets from successful punters, RacingNSW will impose a minimum bet limit from September 1.

Wagering operators with turnover of more than $5 million will have to bet a punter to lose $2000 at a city meeting and $1000 at provincial and country fixtures.

Bookmakers with less than $5 million turnover will have to bet their customers to lose $1000 on all thoroughbred meetings.

....

Under the terms of the minimum bet guidelines, wagering operators will not be able to close a punter’s betting account, refuse to accept a new account or restrict a punter to avoid complying with the new rules.

“All punters should be able to place a legitimate bet on NSW thoroughbred races and should not be discriminated against by having their accounts closed or bets refused simply because they are successful,” V’landys said.



The Australian betting industry operates differently to envious nations abroad - the racing industry holds the power. All bookmakers are licensed by government departments which are responsible for racing and wagering - it's in the name of the minister's portfolio, just slightly different from state to state. Racing holds no such power in the UK, in fact it failed in the European Court a decade ago when it tried to charge for its data.

On-course bookmakers in Australia have always been forced to lay a bet to any individual to lose X, an amount which varies by the strength of the meeting and their position in the ring. As the industry evolved and telephone bookmakers started up in lower-tax jurisdictions such as the Northern Territory, corporate bookmakers were never bound by such restrictions. The NT Govt tried to enforce one but bookies just found ways around it, by removing certain product types for winning clients or simply closing accounts. When punters pushed for the NT Dept of Gaming and Racing to have some balls and stick up for punters, after all, they are there to protect the rights of punters, the corporate bookies lobbied against it and quelle surprise, the paper-shufflers caved in and dropped the rule altogether.

Racing NSW supremo Peter V'Landys, whom I have previously criticised heavily, has to be admired for his stance here. The rules seem fair - at $2000, the risk amount on a single bet to anyone is less than a 'rails' bookmaker has to stand on raceday. The restrictions only apply from 9am on raceday (2pm for night meetings), not to early trading - and in Australia with the brilliant system of 72hr decs, markets go up as early as Wednesday afternoon for the major Aussie raceday of Saturday - which will allow bookmakers to let punters hammer the market into place before they are compelled to lay the larger wagers. (Note that on-course bookies are only subject to these rules once they open their market - usually 30mins before a race). A bookmaker cannot close/refuse an account from anyone unless they have a criminal record (doubt that would stop them unless it was an integrity risk) or they were a 'bowler' - someone betting for another to hide their identity. Why they chose $2000 is interesting - bookies pitched lower, the punters' lobby group pitched lower, while the racecourse 'rails' bookie must bet to $5000. Was V'Landys gunning for higher turnover or trying to find a level which would annoy the corporate bookies but not enough to bring in the lawyers? Hat tip to Racetrack Ralphy for that last hypothesis.

Bookies will moan this is too hard, the industry is different now etc... They're right. It is different. But they made it different. They spent mega-millions on advertising to bring in the mugs, tempting them with the dream of actually winning a few bets while discriminating against those who actually had the discipline to carry it out. A bookmakers licence is a privilege not a right and the enforcement that all customers must be served to at least a minimum level of service is fair and just. Modern technology is fast enough and complex enough to deal with this. One Australian firm specialising in 'Best Tote' business has a laying off system which allows big bets to be split up across the various state totes to flatten out any pool anomalies, up to the final seconds before a race. The customer management system of factoring up punters on some sports where they bet recreationally and down where they win (or don't lose enough) consistently is highly advanced. They can deal with this, but they were never going to do it willingly. My major argument in their favour is the lack of consultation and notice - if this was a government policy being changed, affected bodies would have 6-12 months or more to prepare for it. A racecourse bookie only needs to deal with a handful of punters asking for the same price at once, the online bookie could have dozens.

As in any political fight, there has been some utter drivel churned out in response to this announcement. The Australian Wagering Council has been formed to represent the corporate bookmakers of Australia, and produced this gemstone of gibberish. Click on the link if you can stomach the lot...

AWC CALLS FOR FREEZE ON MINIMUM BET RULE PROPOSAL

'there have been frequent and persistent complaints by punters about online wagering operators refusing to take their bets. These complaints appear to be driven by professional punters who are looking after their own business interests...'

1. It's a hell of a lot more than pros, it's most people who consider themselves remotely advanced in their wagering.

2. Looking after business interests.... pot, kettle....

3. Delays in bet acceptance? How about, stop hiring bean counters and screen watchers, and go back to the proper bookmaking ways of hiring expert compilers and risk managers. Big change in bookmaking in recent years is automating everything and sacking most of the expertise.

'the implementation of a minimum bet rule on a state-by-state or code-by-code basis will result in regulatory uncertainty...'

Why? Anything that speeds up consistency across states and improves transparency is a positive step for the industry.

'Practical complexities of compliance and enforcement may also prove difficult for state (racing) authorities...'

Man has walked on the Moon, Australia won the America's Cup - nothing worthwhile is easy. The NT Racing & Gaming Dept are a lazy bunch who want to sponge off other states for the tax revenue but do very little to protect them. The ACT equivalent allowed the SportsAlive fiasco to occur under their watch when it was well known they'd had cash flow issues for over two years. They can't just take the cash and not be expected to work for it. And this further highlights the need for national regulation for both racing and wagering.

'on-course bookmakers are effectively servicing customers of the race club..'

Maybe 20 yrs ago, vast majority of their business now is via phones & other technology, so this point is no longer valid.

'online wagering operators who are servicing their own customers and are entitled to manage risk as they see fit'

They are licensed to conduct business under the terms of the regulator, and also the owner of any product they are licensed to wager on (eg AFL restricting certain bet types, Betfair not being permitted to operate in-running betting on Australian jumps races or protests & photo finishes - very different to the UK). If those regulations change, then they have to abide by them, so all that needs to happen here is that the regulator recognises the demands of the governing body.

Every person betting on racing is a customer of racing, directly or indirectly. If a bookie shafts a punter on racing, that has a flow-on effect. There are so many other form of gambling entertainment these days - sport, casinos, pokies/FOBTs - that it is crucial racing has a say here.

'Leakage of customers to illegal and unregulated offshore providers'

That old chestnut. Smaller now than ever before, yet they wheel it out to support a lame argument and make the uneducated think it's actually a factor.

For debate:

Do Racing NSW really have the power to do this? It's one thing controlling the intellectual property, but controlling how operates conduct their business once they have paid for that data is a step further and one which will no doubt make a bunch of rich lawyers even richer. Australian state law is a bloody mess, and should all be scrapped, it's not all as simple as whatever Sydney thinks can happen.

The link with Commonwealth Anti Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing legislation isn't that ridiculous - Bronwyn Bishop famously accused Betfair of laundering money for al-Qaeda under the protection of speaking in the Senate, and the biggest piece of legislation which shut down most US-facing Caribbean bookmakers was a backhanded measure attached to this type of legislation.

That said, it hasn't been a problem for corporate bookmakers to accept $100k+ bets when it suits their PR machine, so where there's a will there's a way. Allowing punters to win $3k at any time isn't going to affect this unless the govt drops the threshold much lower (last I heard it was $10k, may have changed in recent years)

Racing NSW shouldn't have the power to force firms to deal with customers they don't like - that's the responsibility of government regulators who should have some balls, rather than just being taxpayer-funded papershufflers.

Concern about 'bowlers' - they've operated since betting was invented and a big chunk of wagering comes via commission agents like Steve Fletcher, Neville Clements etc. The bookie rarely knows who is behind them and it's not an issue....

Risks to the integrity of the event - valid but another chestnut. How many truly rigged races are there? Do the bookies report every race they flag up as a boat race? NSW Harness Racing would never get anything done if every suspicious race was reported by corporate bookies!

Account closures should be allowed - but only in cases of corruption (authorities often want these accts kept open to monitor their activity), problem gambling or staff abuse. And for these cases, there should be proper paperwork and an appeals process available.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

If V'Landys pulls this off - it begins September 1 and most of the loopholes seem to have been addressed - then I must put my hands up and bow to him. Racing's view that since wagering firms generate the lion's share of funding for the industry and also provide the avenue to get involved for the vast majority (there are only so many owners, jockeys, trainers, stablehands etc. but many times more punters) then it is bad for the industry if those firms controlling those pathways to enjoying racing restrict them simply because they like racing so much, they invest time into form study and the discipline to win more often than most.

Other states will no doubt follow suit in some form. Racing Victoria have discussed it, but their approach is to consult with their wagering partners rather than rule with an iron fist. There is no doubt that V'Landys has an increase in turnover in his sights, which in turn will drive greater returns to Racing NSW through the racefields turnover fee. He has never shown any regard for punters at all; 'punters are not price sensitive', 'a reduction in tote takeout would benefit nobody except a few professionals', turning a great betting ring into an afterthought at the new Randwick; so to claim this new policy is solely for the benefit of Australian punters is a bit rich. Racing Victoria is said to be looking at a pricing model to incentivise corporate bookmakers to service the sharper/higher-staking punters without hammering them on solely a turnover model which gets very costly once low margin, high staking, winning punters are guaranteed service.

Will Queensland follow suit? The Sunshine State has been home of the betting ring rort since Bernborough was a foal. Bookies forcing prices out for the official fluctuations and then hammering off-course/interstate outlets betting on those live or SP prices. If it was the financial industry, most of them would have been locked up for market manipulation. So would the racing authorities in Qld follow suit? Initially I thought not as they've not done anything to ruffle feathers with local bookies in decades, but this doesn't affect the on-course layer at all (already bound to bet to lose at least that much), it only hurts the corporates so it's a no-brainer.

In the RNSW legislation, there is nothing to force a bookie to bet the same punter twice. So if they back a horse to win two bags of sand at 10/1, they have the right to refuse the punter who comes back again (either to win more or if trying to push the odds down) at that price or a lower one. That's fair enough.

There is also no compulsion for the online bookmaker to offer the same set of prices, as highlighted by Shane Anderson on Racing Ahead. So instead of having your account factored (industry term for setting a customer to half/third/quarter/tenth stakes of the standard customer. Rich mugs might go the other way 2x, 5x etc.), if you're sharp they can put you onto a different price feed, no doubt with fatter margins.

Bookmakers have one month to prepare for it. My guess is on day one, they'll go into damage control mode and add a few % points to the market to create a buffer zone. But, that can create a false economy where they only lay the one horse at the 'right' price rather than several which would create the healthy book they aspire to. If they are smart, they'll start doing it quietly over the next few weeks to test the water.

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