The “Fair Play” Coalition

The Fair Play Coalition –  which is a lobby group of the Clubs sector and TabCorp –  has waded into the media landscape of late. Their narrative is that they aren’t getting a fair go in the current wagering industry.

I have researched their arguments and found them to be flawed and hypocritical. And the concerning part is they have the ear of state Govt’s. –  who unfortunately have a very basic understanding of the industry. State Govt’s. are now beginning to act unilaterally, and without consulting the wider wagering industry, and ratchet wagering taxes up on corporate bookies. This will lead to less value for punters as the increase in taxes will be passed on to punters by way of higher percentage markets – Dean Shannon (head of Ladbrokes and Neds) has confirmed this in the media. 

Worse odds leads to punters losing their money at a faster rate – they enjoy their punting sessions less, and some might give it away all together. The industry needs to remember this.

I don’t mind wagering taxes rising when all sides of the debate have been presented and a rational decision can be made, but in this case that hasn’t happened.

Below is Fair Play Coalition’s main argument as listed on its website and a link to it.

https://www.fairplaycoalition.com.au/

It’s time for fair play.

Last year, whilst many Australian businesses suffered through COVID-19, foreign-owned bookies, like Sportsbet and Ladbrokes, shipped more than half a billion dollars of profits out of the country.

It’s because foreign-owned bookies are taxed less.

It means Australia could keep losing more than half a billion dollars overseas every year.

This money should be going back into Australian jobs, Australian industries and Australian communities.

Here are my responses:

Last year, whilst many Australian businesses suffered through COVID-19, foreign-owned bookies, like Sportsbet and Ladbrokes, shipped more than half a billion dollars of profits out of the country.

In August 2016 TabCorp launched a UK based bookmaking operation called SunBets, with then Tabcorp chief executive David Attenborough saying: “Entering the UK market in partnership with News UK is an exciting opportunity for Tabcorp as we take our capability into the A$7 billion UK online gambling market”.

By mid 2018 SunBets had failed, and TabCorp ended up losing $100s of millions on the venture. If SunBets had succeeded the Fair Play Coalition wouldn’t exist, as TabCorp, like Sportsbet, would have filled up on the sugar hit that Covid was, and they would have quietly shipped all the profits back to Australia to be distributed to their shareholders.

Tabcorp were all in on globalisation until now, when it doesn’t suit them.

It’s because foreign-owned bookies are taxed less.

Foreign owned bookies are taxed less than TabCorp because TabCorp has a monopoly on both the tote (which carries no trading risk, unlike fixed odds) and retail outlets across most of Australia. Foreign-owned bookies would be happy to pay the same tax as TabCorp if they were allowed retail outlets, and allowed to conduct a tote service. It’s deeply misleading to not point this out.

It means Australia could keep losing more than half a billion dollars overseas every year.

A vast amount of TabCorp’s profits are also “lost” overseas. TabCorp’s shareholder structure is very similar to that of Sportsbet’s parent company, Dublin based Flutter Entertainment. 7 of the top 10 shareholders of TabCorp are dividend hungry foreign investment houses. 

Ironically, Flutter Entertainment’s largest shareholder, with a significant 10% stake, is  the deeply private Australian based and owned Caledonia Investments. Caledonia manages money for Australia’s wealthiest families. So Sportsbet’s most important and influential shareholder is Australian. 

This money should be going back into Australian jobs, Australian industries and Australian communities.

Last financial year Sportsbet had revenue of $2.3 billion and put $1.52 billion of that back into the Australian economy by way of product fees, taxes, employee wages, marketing costs and sponsorships etc…. And then of the approx $750 million profit they achieved they then have to pay company tax. To put some context to this, Sportsbet contributed more in percentage terms  to the Aussie economy than the Commonwealth Bank did – Comm Bank had revenue of $24 billion on $11 billion of expenses.

Poor strategic vision by TabCorp

In April 2021 UK based Entain (owner of Ladbrokes) lobbed a $3.5 billion bid for TabCorp. It was rejected by TabCorp. TabCorp’s current market capitalization is $2.36 billion, so TabCorp could well be in play again as a takeover target very soon.

Being part of the Fair Play Coalition puts Tab shareholders in a poor strategic position because no matter what price Entain or another foreign company offer, TabCorp must reject the offer based on their membership of the Fair Play Coalition, but there is no way they will reject it . When the money is serious enough the Fair Play Coalition and ideals will be forgotten and the bidders and TabCorp will be thrashing out a multi billion dollar deal.

Fair Play’s call to action

On their website Fair Play Coalition go on to ask punters to “click here to support the campaign”. I have considered their campaign thoroughly, and yet am defeated when trying to understand why punters should support this campaign. I see nothing in it for us.

Considering the playing field is now level – as TabCorp keep telling us – below is what I believe would give punters a better marketplace and betting experience, and should be added to the campaign if they want our support:

  1. A national tote run by TabCorp. All other wagering operators are allowed to offer tote odds to their clients but every cent bet must go into the national pool – wagering operators are banned from holding the money themselves. TabCorp then offers those wagering operators a rebate on the turnover. And those operators can then offer part of the rebate to their clients. The tote is a mess and is just about dead – it needs emergency attention. The industry needs to go to one tote then all join together to promote it and reinvigorate it.
  2. Cheaper access to race vision. TabCorp has a virtual monopoly on racing vision. Now corporates pay as much as TabCorp for the racing product, make it more affordable for bookies to show the vision they are taking bets on. And also have the vision on free-to-air TV. 
  3. Allow in-play betting for all wagering operators. In today’s digital world it is embarrassing that punters can’t bet in-the-run on sporting events. TabCorp and the Clubs Lobby railed hard against in-play betting when it was last up for discussion via the O’Farrell review of 2015. In-play is what punters and wagering operators want – we are all equal now apparently, and TabCorp doesn’t deserve any special consideration, so let’s have it.
  4. Introduce a national minimum bet limit on sport. It’s been very successful in the racing codes. It’s had no impact on turnover or bookies profit. And most importantly it’s given the market integrity. In November 2017 the Federal Govt. asked the Social Services Department to evaluate the idea of a national MBL on sport, they spent months researching the issue and put out a 58 page report. One of the options suggested to the Govt. was to implement a national MBL on sport (page 52). TabCorp needs to contact the federal govt and ask them to bring in a national sports MBL. Here is the link to the report. https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/11_2017/final_report_-_betting_restrictions_report.pdf

Summary

I think TabCorp is a decent, progressive Aussie company that is having a bad run, and that bad run is their own fault. They should own it, refocus and try to once again become the dominant market player (Sportsbet has gone well past them now in market share). 

I think the Fair Play Coalition is reckless in its messaging and will continue to erode value for punters if some facts aren’t installed quickly. 

I have not been guided or assisted by anyone in my findings. All my statements have come from publicly available reports distributed by the companies I have discussed.

We have the best racing industry in the world and that’s because it’s so well funded and run, and TabCorp has been a huge part of the industry’s success over the last few decades. I’m all in on funding the industry as well and efficiently as possible, but TabCorp are doing punters a disservice with this current campaign. 

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