Betting ring doomed if desired overround can’t be reached

Dr Liz Kelleher and Clodagh Mulcahy making a presentation to trainer John P O'Sullivan following the victory of the John Breen-ownedBawnaglanna in the Mint Dental 330 at the Passage West GAA Club's fundraiser at Curraheen Park.

Has Irish greyhound racing being beamed live into the betting shops reached an impasse?

That would seem to be the situation, following the last couple of Tuesday nights at Curraheen Park, where the desired overround, between 135 and 140%, was not met.

The long and the short of it is the bookmakers feel exposed betting to such percentages, and claim they are unable to make it pay. That, in itself, tells us a lot about where the sport stands right now.

It’s interesting that, on the Greyhound Star website, on Tuesday, a short article appeared, quoting Ladbrokes spokesperson Richard Brankley as saying: “There is clearly a market for the product on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evening and the 10-race meetings from Cork, Mullingar and Youghal have been well received. They are betting to a market of around 131/132% and we would expect that to come down as the market grows in confidence.”

While we may take a small pinch of salt with all PR, it’s clear there’s a degree of optimism that Irish greyhound racing is a viable product.

However, as long as a mark of 135% cannot be reached, our racing is of no value to the betting shops, as punters will bet elsewhere.

Never before has there been such easy access to betting, through shops, computers, phones, tablets, etc, and that, inevitably, leads to competition between firms, and sports. Anyone who has a bet these days has no excuse not to find themselves some value, and if they’re not getting it they shouldn’t be betting.

Given what is widely available, in many sports every day, the fact is you’re not being bowled over with value at 135/140%, and yet bookmakers say they cannot survive at that rate.

So, what’s going wrong? Well, there are a number of possibilities, headed by the fact there is not much money floating around the tracks these days. If there was enough, there would be greater opportunity for bookmakers to ‘make a book’. Right now, and for many years, turnover has been small, meaning most races are essentially a gamble for the bookmaker — taking on one dog.

Unrecorded trials are no help, either. It’s a long time since they were stopped at Shelbourne Park and, if tracks are serious about making this trial turn into a permanent fixture, this needs to happen so bookmakers can be more confident of their books.

But, with whispers that it’s already costing Curraheen a significant amount to run on Tuesday, as opposed to Thursday, the chance of tracks cutting another significant revenue stream would seem entirely unlikely — unless it can be compensated for, of course.

If the bookmakers are revolting right now, because they can’t win at those percentages, applying the same logic, punters should have been revolting for years. And, perhaps they have been, because there are certainly fewer at the tracks these days.

So, are there possible solutions? There have to be. A man who has been long enough in the game to know what would and wouldn’t work, suggested the major bookmaking firms should stand at the tracks, and bet to the percentages required.

That’s not totally off the wall, though there would be issues. You would be taking work from each existing bookmaker at these tracks, and there’s also the concern about handing even more control to the bookmaking firms.

Would it be better to have one pitch at each of the tracks run by a major bookmaking firm? Perhaps what the current layers need is the protection of a big firm presence to act as a buffer, a safety net, a lay-off option.

If a firm stands and accepts a decent bet on-track, the most optimistic result would be a return of bigger punters, and thus a livelier and active betting ring, from which all standing bookmakers can benefit.

I can’t speak of Mullingar, but the ‘betting shop cards’ at Curraheen and Youghal over the past few weeks have been of a very good standard — the type that can still attract a crowd.

The on-track markets have died at almost all small tracks, due in part to a lack of value. It would be overstretching it to believe we’ll see a quick revival, but the future can be positive.

Whatever happens — even if the betting shops wash their hands of our tracks — we cannot go back to a situation where bookmakers are returning percentages of 160 and higher. That is not the way forward. In truth, there should be an onus on the tracks to police the overrounds, to ensure this never happens. Not doing so, takes the punter for granted.

Realistically, if there isn’t a way to make it work at 135, the sport, as a betting proposition, is as good as dead.

This Saturday night Curraheen hosts one of its big nights of the year, with six finals down for decision, headed by the Easytrip Parking Open Bitch Stake, worth €4,000 to the winner.

Cork GOBA sponsors the remainder of the deciders, on a card which gets underway at 7.46pm.

At Youghal track, entries are being taken for the Rising Unraced Stake and Southern Sprint, both of which get underway tomorrow week.

At Limerick, the 2015 Kerry Agribusiness Irish St Leger gets underway with 11 heats on Saturday night.

Chief amongst the entries is Cable Bay, who won the €80,000 Con and Annie Kirby Memorial at the track earlier in the year.

He performed with distinction in the Derby, will be aided by his course form, and should be a leading player outright.

Secreto, who came of age somewhat in the Derby, can show the benefit of his Shelbourne experience by going deep in the competition.


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