No doubt about it, I like to travel. My wife and I will take regular excursions overseas to explore new countries whenever we can. And part of the reason that makes international travel so easy today is the internet.
However, I nearly choked on my Pho Bo when reading the latest outburst from Bob Bentley in the Sydney Morning Herald last week.
Forgive my indulgence, but with broadband internet and a laptop or two, I can set myself up for an afternoon's punting in any major city around the world. Ten years ago, an overseas trip for a professional punter meant taking complete time-off from punting. Nowadays, at the very least, even casual and semi-professional punters can log in, check track conditions and scratchings and place bets online before joining the tour bus on a daily sojourn of their city of choice.
This is the betting world that we live in today.
But Bob Bentley and Peter V’Landys don't believe in this world.
They want punters to get into their car, and visit a TAB outlet in their own country (despite the fact that the number of outlets are quickly diminishing), or else pay a ridiculous entry fee to visit a racecourse, and then pay a 200% price increase for a supposed hot ham roll or cold beer (and punters on-course are well aware that as they fill the frig from the front at most racetracks, they are more than likely to receive a hot beer rather than a cold beer on a busy day).
They obviously don't want us to use the internet, as I have never heard one racing official in this country ever criticise the poor performance levels of the Tabcorp or Unitab online betting systems. They are very loud in criticizing raceclubs, interstate bookmakers, track managers, betting exchanges, trainers and jockeys who step out of line, but I have never once publicly heard an official berate Tabcorp or Unitab whenever something goes wrong with their betting platform.
Even when Tabcorp sheepishly announced that they are unable to reconfigure their computers to bet on race fields containing more than 24 horses, very little, if anything was said by the NSW or Queensland state bodies.
The Tabtanic can do no wrong, and we must continue to put our trust in them. Never mind that race wagering is now only a minor part of the Tabcorp portfolio these days.
Unfortunately, despite the advantages of the internet, the Australian racing industry is making it even harder for myself to invest vital turnover on Australian racing while overseas.
When I was last on holidays overseas last year, I was able to watch Sky Channel live online (although Sydney Metro and Victorian racing was blacked out due to TVN ownership). However, Sky Channel now apologises that I can't even watch anything while overseas.
I can get replays of Sydney and Victorian racing online later in the week through TVN, but I am forced to watch a "mini-screen", as the full size screen available through Bigpond is also blocked out due to my geographical address. Never mind the fact that I am a bigpond subscriber in Sydney. My IP address is the overruling factor.
Of course, I get to watch full screen replays of Hong Kong, English and Irish racing either for free, or for a very low fee, anywhere in the world.
The betting revenue is supposedly the lifeblood of the racing industry, but no-one from the industry seems to care what punters want. I want to pay for stewards head-on patrol footage online for each race in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Many punters would argue that they should receive such information for free. They are probably right. The HKJC gives stewards patrol film online for free. But I am happy to pay for it.
But no-one from the Australian Racing Industry even wants to sell it to me - I am flatout getting a decent online replay of any race in Australia!
The Hong Kong Jockey Club provide an amazing amount of information for their punters, yet in Australia, all of the decent online information is provided by private companies. As good as we are (Racenet, Racing & Sports, AAP, TVF, Just Racing, and all of the other little websites including Trackdata), we basically exist because the Australian Racing Industry has been so pathetic in taking up the challenge to provide a decent online resource to punters.
We continue to see the mainstream media in this country continue to push the wheelbarrow of whining from Peter V'Landys and Bob Bentley on why they cannot achieve their objectives, but there is a distinct lack of questioning on other more poignant issues facing this industry. Why will no-one ask them could the problems of stagnant TAB turnover over the last five years belong to reasons other than corporate bookmakers or betting exchanges?
While it seems impossible at the moment, Australian administrators take note, when betting exchanges are given approval to operate on Hong Kong racing, a number of Australian punters will leave Australian racing FOREVER. This is no idle threat, but a betting reality. I, for one, will be the first to jump. Much bigger fish than me will also jump.
Betting exchanges and Australian corporate bookmakers are already well placed to follow the path of punters turning international. The TAB with their tiny pools producing totally silly final totalisator odds is lagging behind.
No, perhaps I am completely wrong. Bob and Peter are right. The internet and technological advancements are just all too hard to deal with. Calculating the correct revenue on profits as opposed to turnover is just too difficult a mathematical task. Better to once again ask the Federal Government for help to ensure that their decisions are saved after being continuously beaten by the legal system, not to mention just plain common sense and business acumen.
Trackdata has made this statement a number of times, but the truth remains relevant. The administrators sitting in the same executive chairs forty-five years ago that Bob and Peter are now occupying, were also STRONGLY AGAINST the introduction of the off-course Totalisator concept (i.e. the TAB). They thought it would bring the death of racing.
Sounds familiar anyone?
We are in the process of a new betting revolution, with now foreign betting agencies buying into our online bookmakers and looking at tendering in the upcoming totalisator license in Victoria. The ARB, State bodies and raceclubs should all be wringing their hand in glee at the prospect of once again turning thoroughbred punting into the major gambling industry in this country.
But instead, we have Bob and Peter looking to protect an idea invented in the 1920's as the only exclusive life line in racing. Surely if Bob and Peter were involved in the television media, they would deny Foxtel completely and see no reason to move from black and white television to colour. What wonderful vision!
Kevin Skene, TRACKDATA, 29/05/2009