Sports bookmakers take coronavirus hit too

Peter V'landys
Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys says horse racing should go on as it “boosts the spirits of people”.

Bookmakers are holding their breath as the billion-dollar sports betting industry also feels the pinch of the devastating coronavirus pandemic.

As global sporting events grind to a halt so too do opportunities for punters to splash their cash, leaving bookies reeling from the fallout and scrambling to identify novel alternatives to try to mitigate their crippling losses.

British betting agencies are said to have laid off staff and industry insiders fear the same will happen in Australia if horse racing is shut down in the same way as the major sporting codes.

According to reports quoting official government figures, Australians dropped a staggering $4.37 billion in racing and sports punting in 2016/17 – well before the saturation of mobile phone apps offering endless betting options.

There were some 200 individual bet types on both AFL and NRL matches, ranging from simple head-to-heads to automated algorithmic in-game multi options and last point-scorer options that allowed punters to invest from kick-off right up until fulltime.

With competitions suspended en masse, that has left bookmakers with voids impossible to fill.

But they are trying.

Tabcorp NSW on Wednesday fielded $40,000 worth of wagers on the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates in April, while opening markets on the Time Person of the Year and the winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

“The favourites here are whoever can come up with the vaccine for Covid 19,” a spokesperson said.

With betting agencies under such drastic pressure to find new revenue avenues, it’s little wonder officials are doing everything in their power to keep racing going during the unprecedented health and financial crisis.

“I think racing boosts the spirits of people. It gives them something to look forward to and we’ll continue to race as long as we can,” V’landys told Sky Racing.

“But it’s a fluid situation and we’re in the government’s hands and the chief medical officer’s hands and, as I learnt in the rugby league world, what happened one day wasn’t relevant the next.

“So we’ve got to be realistic about it and expect the worst … if there’s a complete lockdown, it absolutely affects us as well.”

Offering hope amid the gloom, V’landys said horse racing was “completely different” to the NRL.

“The NRL’s a contact sport; racing isn’t,” he said.

“The players congregate with each other much more than we do in racing.

“So I believe is still safe to continue, especially if we have all the biosecurity measures in place at all our racecourses.

“We’re abiding by all the government guidelines and being extra cautious.

“We’re checking people’s temperatures, jockeys’ temperatures. We’re putting the jockeys in five different rooms, we’re looking at even harsher measures with jockeys’ isolations.”

But even if the show goes on, there are certain to be major financial ramifications.

“Fifty per cent of our turnover comes from pubs, clubs and TAB agencies and the other 50 per cent comes from digital,” V’landys said.

“So it will be interesting to see how much of that pub, club and TAB agency migrates to digital.

“We’re hoping there’s significant migration to that channel but we’ll have to review that after this week to see where that sits.”