TABCORP and the ‘genuine (commercially viable) customer’

Fair Wagering has been handed an extraordinary document that lifts the lid on Australia’s biggest wagering operator’s attempts to severely restrict winning punters at TAB retail outlets.

It looks as though Tabcorp recently sent the document out to agents on its 2600-strong retail network across New South Wales and Victoria. The missive appears to be an attempt to placate agents in at least 100 TAB’s who have reported plunging commissions as a result of restrictions placed on the size of all bets, even if just one punter is winning.

Tabcorp referred to “expanded risk management” in their fixed odds division at a recent mid-year presentation – we now know what it means for punters, and it ain’t pretty.

Tabcorp have officially joined the scourge that has become rife within the Australian corporate bookmaking community.

They are no longer bookies and are simply accountants who wish to manage money (bets) from mug punters.

Because all punters are “mugs” and have trouble with even basic English, we at FWA have paraphrased some of the key points in Tabcorp’s “Fixed Odds Liability Q&A” to help you to better understand corporate language.

If you want to read it for yourself, here it is. Otherwise, allow us.

From Tabcorp document, "Fixed Odds Liability Q & A"

From Tabcorp document, “Fixed Odds Liability Q&A”

i.e. We drove all winning punters off our website by rejecting any bets that didn’t suit us. Don’t get too excited if they roll up to your agency ready to bet big, turnover lots and help your business.

As soon as one of our bookmakers (accountants) get a whiff that a winning punter is betting in a TAB agency, we’ll flick a switch and shut the agency down. No 10 second reset or phone call will help.

From Tabcorp document, “Fixed Odds Liability Q&A”

i.e. If we have to manage all 2600, we will. The winning punters that we are trying to get rid of have thankfully only made it to 100 agencies so far.

From Tabcorp document, “Fixed Odds Liability Q&A”

i.e. VERY IMPORTANT POINT. Only losers are “genuine customers”. We don’t want winning punters getting in the way of our profits. If you spot a winning punter (non-genuine customer) in your agency, stay calm; alert us, we’re here to help.

From Tabcorp document, "Fixed Odds Liability Q&A"

From Tabcorp document, “Fixed Odds Liability Q&A”

i.e. If it’s 6pm on a Friday night and there are only two punters in your agency having $1 mystery trifectas and a winning punter (non-genuine customer) walks in wishing to bet big and hard with your turnover incentivised agency, DO NOT BET THEM. We at headquarters make a gross profit of $10 million a week off fixed odds bets. That’s not enough, we want more!

Don’t worry about your own little business, that’ll sort itself out in the long term, sorta, kinda??!!

———-

We are informed that the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing are looking into Tabcorp’s new fixed odds management procedures. We’ll forward this onto them.

Tabcorp, through tab.com.au, retail outlets, Luxbet and Sky Racing are the undisputed driver of the racing industry. They need to, and are entitled to be profitable. But who is betting to lose? We all need to at least know that one day maybe we can be winners. If this new style of management becomes the norm, we will all only ever be losers. Tabcorp can take us for granted at its own peril.

Perhaps there should be a warning whenever you enter a TAB outlet in New South Wales or Victoria – ‘WARNING: GENUINE CUSTOMERS ONLY. BETTING TO WIN WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.’

—————

Please Note: The author of this article has absolutely no association with Sydney rails bookmaker David Dwyer.

UPDATE

It’s been a while since we posted, so here’s a quick run down on where we’re at in our quest to bring back fairness to sports and race wagering in Australia.

Northern Territory

Consistent with recent posts, we are still getting no help whatsoever from the Northern Territory Racing Commission (NTRC) or the Northern Territory Government.

This is the regulatory authority that in mid-2013 removed the rule requiring bookmakers to bet all punters to win a minimum amount ($1000) on racing.

We put the following to the Northern Territory Minister for Business, David Tollner:

  • “Are you planing to make any changes to the way the NTRC operates and how it oversees the regulation of bookmakers in the NT? We are particularly referring to one of the objects of the NT Racing and Betting act: “(c) to promote fairness, integrity and efficiency in the operations of persons engaged in racing and betting in the Territory”.”

He responded:

  • “I do not wish to interfere with their (NTRC’s) independence” He then goes on to note a VCAT case where it was found that “a bookmaker cannot be compelled to accept a wager from a person” before he concluded that: “In essence, each wager is a contract and no person can be compelled to contract with another. This fully supports the Racing Commission’s stance.”

Bookmakers licensed by the Northern Territory Government are turning over close to $6 billion annually with conservative profit estimates of $400 million. Last financial year they paid just $2.4 million in tax to the NT Government through a levy on gross wagering profits, capped at $250,000 per bookmaker.

So why are the NT Government so keen to bow down to these highly profitable foreign-owned bookmaking firms given that tax receipts are so low? We have been led to believe it has a lot to do with Federal GST rebates. Huge rebates on the GST bookmakers pay. If anyone can contribute on this issue, let us know.

Code of Conduct 

Rich has met with and continues to meet with several significant stakeholders including bookmakers, direct racing participants and administrators, in an effort to have our proposed Code of Conduct accepted.

At least ONE bookmaker has indicated that they are willing to sign off on the Code of Conduct straight away.

Other conversations are ongoing and we will await further responses in the next few weeks.

Integrity

Integrity continues to be a huge issue facing sports and racing bodies. Banning winning punters here drives a considerable amount of money offshore to a multitude of bookmakers including Pinnacle and SBOBet, where information sharing agreements with Australian sports and racing bodies are non-existent.

Money becomes untraceable and massive concerns have to be raised about possible match-fixing and corruption. All on the NT Government watch.

We will be pushing for Federal action in the upcoming months as it has become clear that State and Territory regulators are completely complicit with bookmakers.

Twitter

In a short time, we have passed the 700 follower mark @FairWagering. Twitter conversation has been open and honest. We thank all for contributing to the discussion and hope that we can continue to use social media to draw attention to the issues and to conduct a balanced debate about bringing back fairness and integrity to Australian wagering.

Dave

WORST BOOKIE 2013

We couldn’t end the year without awarding Fair Wagering Australia’s “Worst Bookmaker 2013”.

We determine the worst bookie to be the one that is the most unfair to punters – particularly those that happen to win more often than they lose.

It was a very strong field this year, headed by UK-owned Ladbrokes, Bet365 and Sportingbet, but honorable mentions also go to the homegrown Luxbet and Betezy.

But there can only one winner. Envelope please.  Drumroll…..

And the winner is…. Bet365!!! To accept the award, please welcome American film and television actor Samuel L Jackson.

samuel_l_jackson

Thanks Samuel, short but sweet.

Bet365

An unethical bookie where winners are shown the door with astonishing haste.

Winning accounts are closed, successful clients are offered minuscule bets.

Bets are rejected, prices are cut.

Restrictions are placed, bonus winnings are removed.

Bet365 operate under an appallingly one-sided set of terms and conditions which even in the words of the compliant Northern Territory Racing Commission are “harsh” and “restrictive”.

The same regulator even hauled a representative before the commission to fully explain their practices.

Advertising

It has also become clear in recent times that Bet365 is to TV cricket coverage what Tom Waterhouse was to the NRL. You can’t watch a boundary scored without a Bet365 logo in your face or a Michael Clarke century without a follow up Samuel L Jackson TV spot.

Waterhouse at 8pm on the NRL is one thing, but copping it in the middle of the afternoon during the country’s most popular national family sport is another thing altogether. Targeting kids? Doubtful. Irresponsible? Absolutely.

How have Bet365 largely escaped the tirade directed at Tom Waterhouse after his irresponsible over saturating advertising? Cricket Australia and Channel Nine must assume some of the blame as well.

The Company

While it’s clear that operations in Australia haven’t all gone according to plan – the local arm is believed to have lost AUD$36 million in its first year (in-play restrictions hurt immensely) – the company certainly is a Goliath.

On figures from its last financial year of reporting (ending March ‘13), operating profit was up 54% to AUD$327 million on a staggering turnover of in excess of AUD$36 billion from over two million active clients.

Previously, the non-listed privately-held company has rarely shared its financial numbers.  The family behind the multi-billion dollar enterprise – Peter Coates, his daughter Denise (CEO), and son John, are worth over AUD$1.7 billion – just 13 years after they launched the firm.

The family’s controlling interest in Premier League football club Stoke City actually drained the company of over AUD$50 million last year. But the most mind-blowing number is that the company is sitting on over AUD$780 million of cash reserves. Sheeeeeshhh! indeed.

Apparently, one doesn’t accumulate that sort of wealth by betting both winners and losers. It’s more a case of one winning family and millions of losers.

We say that having a bookmaker’s license in Australia shouldn’t just be a license to print money. It’s a form of gambling where winners have to be tolerated. Bookmakers must be forced to bet both losers and winners to win a reasonable amount.

Bookmaking needs to get back to being a duel between oddsmaker and punter, not a one-sided massacre.

So congratulations go to Bet365, Fair Wagering Australia’s Worst Bookmaker 2013.

Stay tuned to the FWA in 2014 as we continue our quest to bring back fairness to wagering in Australia.

NT Minister must act

Richard touched on the role of the regulator in his article earlier the week. Since that piece was published, we have been swamped with stories and examples from punters who have turned to the Northern Territory Racing Commission (NTRC) for “fairness”, only to have their claims completely rejected.

Bookmakers licensed in the NT include: Bet365, Betchoice, Betezy, Betstar, Centrebet, Luxbet, NT TAB, Sportingbet, Sportsbetting (Hamish Davidson), Sportsbet and Tom Waterhouse.

The NTRC is established under the “Racing  and Betting Act NT“.

Included in the  powers and functions of the commission are the following:

(c) do all such things as it considers necessary or desirable for the proper regulation and control, in the interests of the public, of betting by and with bookmakers.. and
(d) do all such acts and things as it considers necessary or desirable for the proper regulation and control, in the interests of the public, of bookmakers, horse-racing, trotting and greyhound-racing..

Under the Racing and Betting Act, the commission also has four “objects“:

(a) to promote probity and integrity in racing and betting in the Territory; and
(b) to maintain the probity and integrity of persons engaged in racing and betting in the Territory; and
(c) to promote fairness, integrity and efficiency in the operations of persons engaged in racing and betting in the Territory; and
(d) to reduce any adverse social impact of betting.

NTRC

The NTRC pledges to provide fairness and integrity to all persons engaged in racing and betting.

Here are just two examples that have been forwarded to us from punters who have had issue with a NT-Licensed bookmaker:

1. RE: Removal of the minimum bet rule and the subsequent changes to terms and conditions at Bet365.

Complainant states:

“Surely it is unethical, not to mention discriminatory, to allow and support practices where “unintelligent” bettors are able to lose infinite sums of money to “bookmakers” yet punters with any modicum of intelligence/ display of profitable behaviour are weeded out to the point of rendering the placement of any bets a futile exercise? Fairness would dictate that if “bookmakers” are free to completely restrict profitable customers then they should also be compelled to restrict those who actively display at risk behaviour and lose large sums? However, we both know such a suggestion is folly and will never occur. Is it really that unreasonable to expect “bookmakers” to allow smart bettors to bet to win $1k on racing selections as a fair balance when they freely those who don’t bet with such intelligence to lose infinite sums of money, potentially putting unknown stresses on their own personal finances and those of their families?

Small scale sole operator bookmakers are expected to bet punters of all levels of intelligence for certain amounts in all jurisdictions as a part of their licensing. Is it really fair that large scale, global conglomerates are given a free pass to shirk such requirements when in reality they are the ones with the customer base, liquidity and hence the ability to profitably and fairly balance the “smart money” with the not so smart money?”

The notion that bookmakers have a responsibility to provide a fair and reasonable service to all comers is not new and has been a traditionally enshrined observance for bookmakers of all times, hence the reasoning behind such notions being enshrined in legislation and licensing requirements throughout virtually all jurisdictions. The allowance of the below is a complete affront to such and completely destroys any notion of fairness in the “battle” between punter and bookmaker insofar as the bookmaker is now completely put in a position where the only outcome will be the taking of punters’ money. This is not only unfair, it is also completely unethical.”

My only realistic expectation is to seek some review of the balance between bookmaker and bettor given the skew that the allowing of such changes puts on this relationship, or if not review at least that such concerns are weighed up whenever changes to regulations are proposed. Nobody can deny the right of a bookmaker to operate in a profitable manner but the allowing of changes such as those I have queried clearly shifts the balance from operating profitably to allowing and encouraging bookmakers to operate in a greedy and unfair manner. Something that responsible regulation has, and always should, seek to repudiate.”

NTRC response:

“The removal of the Minimum Bet Rule and the placing of restrictions on a client’s account is not a valid dispute as prescribed in Regulation 17. Despite this the Racing Commission is able to make the following determination pursuant to the wider provisions of Section 85 of the Racing and Betting Act.

The Northern Territory Racing Commission recently removed the requirement for On-Line Sports Bookmakers Licensed in the Northern Territory to stand to lose pre‑determined amounts on wagering transactions. This decision acknowledges the structural differences between on-course and on-line bookmaking. The Commission is aware that some members of the racing media and a large number of punters are disappointed with the Commission’s recent decision. In response to these concerns the Commission is making this statement and providing a more fulsome rationale for its action through release and posting of the full Decision of the Commission on its website.

The former Minimum Bet Rule was introduced in response to complaints from account holders over capping of fixed odds win wagers with punters in some cases restricted to win miniscule amounts, and to align the obligations of on-line bookmakers with those on-course. The technical realities of internet operations made it so that rather than stake clients to the minimum required under the Rule, many Sports Bookmaker Licensees simply closed the accounts of those who regularly benefited from the Rule.

Assessment of brand and reputation risk fall to respective Licensees to determine and it is for them alone to decide how best to attract and retain clients. Customers are free to take their business to other operators or wager into the Pari-mutuel pool at any time or where possible take advantage of wagering services provided by On Course Bookmakers. It is the belief of the Racing Commission that going forward a commercially realistic balance with respect to alternative available wagering product will be struck to the benefit of the broader gambling public.

With regards to bet365 specifically the Racing Commission has acknowledged the disproportionate level of disputes levelled at this bookmaker and has requested they attend the monthly Commission meeting in September. The bookmaker has been asked to inform the Commission of their risk management and account closure practices.”

2. RE: Removal of bonus winnings on a subsequently restricted account at Bet365.

Complainant states:

“One day I was attempting to place a horse racing bet of $300 and was restricted to around $3. I then saw that I received an email from Bet365 notifying me that restrictions have been placed on my account.

Around two weeks later, Bet365 made a transaction on my account “Bonus Balance Removal” and removed around $800 from my account – what I assume to be an initial bonus bet of $200 and associated winnings.

When I state that they placed restrictions making it almost impossible to turnover the required amount, they say, as per their conditions that they are not required to accept any bet. The latter term makes it near on impossible to fulfill the first term. I believe this represents grossly unfair conduct.

I understand that I had 90 days to turnover a certain amount to ensure winnings from bonus bets can become withdraw-able, but how can Bet365 take this money away after severely restricting my account before this period expires?

I would like Bet365 to either a) return the winnings portion of $XXX ($XXX that was removed, minus the $200bonus) to the account or b) return the full amount ($800) to the account and allow it to be turned over with bets at a reasonable level.”

NTRC response:

“This dispute does not relate to a specific wager not paid to the client, it relates to restrictions being placed on the account by the bookmaker and also the difficulty encountered by the client in utilising free bets because of the restrictions as a result of being able to meet turnover requirements.  Also, winnings relating to turnover requirements have been removed.

The bookmaker has stated that they “…acknowledge that restrictions placed on Mr X’s account would have made it difficult to reach the $1200 turnover figure however we reserve the right to decline all, or part, of any bet/wager requested at our sole and absolute discretion”.

The Courts and Racing Commission have long held the relationship between a bookmaker and their client as one “…founded in contract law”. Commissioner Timney in his decision of L v Sportingbet (13 February 2013) held at [30]:

30) The striking of a wager between a bookmaker and a punter is an agreement founded in contract law.

The bookmaker has acknowledged the placing of restrictions on the account made it hard for Mr X to meet the turnover requirement however it did not prevent him from doing so and Mr X in opening and operating the account with the bookmaker has accepted the terms and conditions, albeit ones that may be considered harsh or restrictive

The bookmaker has invoked their reserved rights to enforce the terms and condition of the promotion which included the turnover requirement and expiration clause as well as their right to refuse all or part of any wager. These rules have been approved by the Racing Commission and more importantly accepted by Mr X when he opened and operated the account. The Racing Commission is not empowered to intervene in such an event to undo a contractual arrangement between parties that has seemingly been applied to its letter.

Mr X, it is the determination of the Racing Commission that the bookmaker has applied the accepted terms and conditions correctly and has no case to answer in relation to this dispute.”

————————————-

On both occasions, the fallback explanation of the NTRC seems to be that “the bookmaker has applied the accepted terms and conditions correctly”.

It’s clear that the NTRC are placing licensees desire to generate greater profits well and truly ahead of their objects of maintaining fairness and integrity for all participants. They are approving Terms and Conditions that are simply unfair.

There is no doubt that bookmakers can turn a profit by betting both winners (a reasonable amount) and losers. Their profits might be reduced, but since when is a bookmakers license a guaranteed license to print money? If they cant make enough profit to sustain their operations here, then go back to the UK or hand back the license.

Two other aspects of the NTRC’s responses cause great concern.

  • “Customers are free to take their business to other operators” – NTRC

This seems an open invitation for successful punters to take their business to one of many offshore operators targeting Australians. Surely, this poses a huge integrity risk?

  • The punter “has accepted the terms and conditions, albeit ones that may be considered harsh or restrictive” – NTRC

The NTRC have approved these T and C’s – thus the NTRC are condoning “harsh” and “restrictive” measures. That’s enough for me.

Given the powers, functions and objects of the NTRC, Fair Wagering Australia believes the commission is completely and utterly failing in it’s obligations under the Racing and Betting Act.

As our complainant from above notes:

“The allowance of (severe restrictions, no min bet) is a complete affront … and completely destroys any notion of fairness in the “battle” between punter and bookmaker insofar as the bookmaker is now completely put in a position where the only outcome will be the taking of punters’ money. This is not only unfair, it is also completely unethical.”

“Nobody can deny the right of a bookmaker to operate in a profitable manner but the allowing of changes such as (removing the minimum bet rule) clearly shifts the balance from operating profitably to allowing and encouraging bookmakers to operate in a greedy and unfair manner. Something that responsible regulation has, and always should, seek to repudiate.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

We say:

The NT minister responsible for overseeing the commission, Hon David William Tollner MLA, must act to ensure the NTRC is indeed ensuring fairness and integrity are maintained for all participants.

Apart from acknowledging receipt of queries to his office, the Minister has failed to respond to questions from Fair Wagering Australia.

Maybe its time we all sent him an email to convey our thoughts:

Hon David William Tollner MLA

email: Minister.Tollner@nt.gov.au

Wagering Council Comedy

Honestly – who are the clowns running this show?

Just take a look at this Australian Wagering Council Statement in response to last night’s Today Tonight story.

“Bookmakers will occasionally decline bets placed by professional gamblers. This is because their bets can distort a betting market. In such instances, the odds change, meaning average punters get worse value. Bookmakers protect the interests of average punters by restricting bets from a professional. Roughly one in every 10,000 bets is declined.

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