By TERRY BUTTS in ‘SILKS & SADDLES’ – NQ REGISTER

THE Australia Competition Tribunal has heard closing submissions into the Tabcorp and Tatts merger and the much anticipated result is likely to be handed down in the next fortnight.

IT is a decision that could have far reaching effect and will revolutionize the gambling landscape of this country. A merger of the two totes is particularly vital for Queensland. The State’s present and long term future relies on the verdict.

The hearing has witnessed some unusual moves, particularly by the predictable opposition – Racing Victoria and the corporate bookmakers – but none more curious than the unexpected involvement of ACCC.

 The competition regulator warned that if Tabcorp is allowed to go ahead with its $11 billion merger with Tatts it would create a gaming behemoth that will ­dominate the market.

“Tabcorp would become, by a very significant margin, the ­dominant provider of wagering in Australia,” counsel for the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, Andrew McClelland, QC, wanred.

Tabcorp responded with an accusation that the ACCC as “not connected to reality”.

To which the regulator replied: “The assertion by Tabcorp that the ACCC has engaged in speculative theories of harm is pejorative and without foundation.

“By casting the ACCC as its ­opponent, Tabcorp appears to misunderstand the role of the ACCC in this matter,” it said.

“The planned merger has been the dream of racing authorities for decades,” wrote Patrick Bartley in a Fairfax Media article last week.

“Most agree country areas would be the direct winners from a strong and powerful national TAB.

“The country has been the back bone to racing in Australia. Tens of thousands of jobs have been created directly and if Australia was to go national those numbers would increase.

“The chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission expressed reservations of the merger, but hopefully Rod Simms can get his head around the nuances and advantages of having one healthy, strong TAB, so our gambling industry will finally be on terms with countries across the world,” he said.

CONVENTIONAL TOTE BUSINESSES IN DECLINE BUT FIXED ODDS BOOMING

TABCORP, Tatts and the ACCC all told the three-man Tribunal that conventional tote businesses were in decline while fixed-odds betting on the internet was booming.

However, the hearing heard Tabcorp’s income was still increasing, although not as fast as that of corporate bookmakers.

Although retail wagering is in decline, its online sales are –increasing.

“Counsel for Tatts, Rod Smith SC, raised the prospect that if the merger was not allowed, the ­decline in the tote business might make it impossible for Tabcorp to continue to support the racing ­industry through large payments to racing bodies.”

He said the James ­Packer-controlled Crownbet, which opposes the merger, was an example of a corporate bookmaker with a market share that had “increased since entering the ­market”.

Company accounts filed by Crownbet show it brought in ­revenue of more than $157 million last year, driven by marketing spend of ­almost $79 million.

Interest in the hearing has been intense, particularly in Queensland, but as one contributor pointed out – that in all of these discussions the most important component of the wagering market is ignored – the punter.

“And it is the systematic abuse of the punter by the corporate bookmakers especially that has allowed them to increase their market share, “he wrote.

The ACCC needs to hold a public inquiry into the actions of corporate bookmakers in this country to establish if they are in breach of competition laws and in breach of the punters legal rights, he wrote.

THE ROLE FORMER PM BOB HAWKE PLAYED IN THIS DISASTER

AND here’s another thing. In the period 1988 to 1990 the current  head of the ACCC Rod Simms was the financial advisor to the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke, a highly famed leader of this country and well known for his indulgence in a pint and a punt.

Did you know it was PM Hawke who played a pivotal role in the granting of the very first legal off-course betting license in Vanuatu to Australian Allan Tripp rated until his retirement as the best and fairest of all off-course bookies? True!

No one, not even Bob, could have foreseen the monster that has been created.

And yet now, unbelievably, the ACCC is calling on the despised corporates to go into bat against the idea of a national tote that promises to be a bonanza to everyone in racing – except, of course, the cane toads, aka the Corporates.

 

THINGS NOT SO GOOD FOR NEW TRACK AT TOWNSVILLE EITHER

IT is the sorry tale of two tracks. While Eagle Farm has been an absolute disaster since its multimillion dollar remake, things are not so good at Townsville either with a track once rated by several jockeys as the best in Australia.

Last Thursday, after days without rain or irrigation, Cluden raced like a Heavy 8 in some parts, prompting a leading local jockey to label is as ‘terrible’. It was the same jockey who loudly sang its praises less than a year ago.

The jury is out on both tracks.

At Eagle Farm the general opinion is that thatch is the culprit.

Thatch is a layer of thick organic matter that retains moisture and prevents it from getting into the sand profile. That means the track retains moisture in the top 100mm layer and races as a heavy track even without rain.

But Townsville TC chairman Mal Petrofski doesn’t believe Cluden has a thatch problem because “the problem is restricted to just a small section of the track between the 700m and on the turn.

“The track is totally unaffected around the back section and even down the straight”.

He believes it could be affected by tidal movement which has long been a contention among locals and which might explain the sometimes erratic race times posted.

“I believe the moisture is not from the top – it’s from underneath,” the Chairman said.

However, he has called on recently-appointed Racing Queensland track expert Mike Hudson to inspect the track this week, hopefully after the race meeting on Thursday.

“He comes from NSW with a big reputation. Hopefully he can sort out our problem.”

There are seven race meetings scheduled between now and end of July (Cup day) at Cluden.

 

‘SILKS & SADDLES’ by TERRY BUTTS of the NQ REGISTER

ATHERTON trainer Roy Chillemi, one of the most successful and most travelled trainers in Queensland, made the long haul to Mackay (1000km return) last Saturday with bitter sweet results.

His promising stayer Dazzling Pride won the time-honoured Mackay Amateur Cup – but sadly suffered a bleeding attack and is out for the entire northern Winter Carnival.

By TERRY BUTTS of the NQ REGISTER

JUST as it was on all racecourses around the country on Saturday, a major talking point at the Mt Garnet meeting was the divorce of one of Far North Queensland’s best known sons, John O’Shea, from the Godolphin fiefdom.

There has been no official reason for the split but the news surprised few who know him well – and were aware of what pressure the trainer has been working under.

Surely it is hard enough satisfying the owner (and his stringent budgetary demands) without having to put up with an entourage of coat-tuggers and dart-throwers – not all of them Australian either.

Who said Winston Churchill was dead?  

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