Tabcorp ramp up plans for national tote pool

A national tote pool for Australian racing is back on the agenda, with Tabcorp stating its desire to have agreements in place to merge pools by June next year as it bids to reinvigorate the once dominant parimutuel market.

Tabcorp’s managing director, wagering and media Adam Rytenskild said the plan is for merging to start “as soon as possible” either as a full merge of all tote pools, or starting with the combining of a couple of pools.

“People have given timelines on this before and they have never been met,” Rytenskild said.

“We’ve got more support and alignment to do something in this space to improve the liquidity of the pools than we’ve ever had before.

“I’m optimistic … we can get some kind of agreement this financial year.”

Rytenskild said Tabcorp’s focus since the onset of COVID-19 restrictions were to adapt to the changed landscape and “to survive quite frankly”.

He said having come through what everyone hopes is the worst of the COVID disaster, the future of the tote has risen as one of the most important issues going forward.

“National pooling has been talked about for some time,” he said.

“The situation with COVID and the potential further decline in parimutuel has really created some impetus across the nation with the racing industry around the potential to do something.

“We have had some well advanced discussions with racing industries in all states to advance pooling.

“That could be a national pool, it could be two pools initially or some other variant. But I think there’s definitely an alignment to do something for parimutuel that makes sure it’s a sustainable part of the offering that compliments fixed odds.”

He said there will be new tote products and offers on parimutuel markets that haven’t been available before in a bid to make it a “compelling complimentary offer” alongside fixed odds.

Rytenskild said he would like to see state racing authorities address the tote derivative products offered by corporate bookmakers and the fees they charge because “it cannibalises the tote.”

“Increasingly the racing industry is understanding we will need to make sure the tote is here for the long term and does for customers and the industry what it was designed to do,” he said.

With retail venues shut through the height of the COVID pandemic, Tabcorp’s major competitors surged in gaining market share.

Rytenskild conceded it was always going to be a challenge when retail networks shut down, but said April-June was TAB’s best quarter in a long time based on market share measures.

“We’ve got over 4000 retail venues. When they close of course it’s going to be a very aggressive market and everyone is interested in acquiring those customers,” he said.

“You never get a better test for how you’re going digitally when you lose 50 per cent of your business. We’ve got very good competition. They play to their strengths, but we’re in the fight more than ever and we’re really enjoying it.”

Rytenskild says retail is far from dead though.

He points to numbers bouncing back to pre-COVID levels since restrictions eased (in some states) and opportunities to provide a better experience for customers.

“People will keep going to pubs and clubs and our customer experience will be increasingly digitally integrated,” he said.

“We see it as an opportunity if we give customers what they want in a way you can only get with TAB as an opportunity to grow our business not only in the venue, but outside the venue as well.

“In terms of what happened as retail started to open, at this point it has started to bounce back. People have gone back and the cash turnover in venues has bounced back to pre-COVID levels.”