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Kevin Smith

Sports Books Cash in on Melbourne Cup

8 November 2001

All the slips have been counted and the results are in. The real winners of this week's Melbourne Cup--Australia's richest horse race--were online sports books.

Ethereal became only the third mare in history to win the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double when she came with a courageous run to gun down imported horse Give The Slip to win the Melbourne Cup at Flemington. She also became the 11th horse to compete in the Cup's double. The 4-year-old mare emulated the deeds of champion mares Let's Elope (1991) and Rivette (1939) to win the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup double. But she wasn't the only big winner.

Reports from various bookmakers across Australia and Europe show that online betting reached record highs for the race.

There was so much activity on Tabcorp's site that it was bogged down and many punters had to wait longer than usual to place bets on their favorite Cup hopefuls.

A Tabcorp spokeswoman told the Australian Broadcasting Company that the company's site had more traffic than ever before for a race, including Derby Days. The increased action was even more impressive considering that not much money was spent to market or promote the site for the Cup.

"Since the federal government decided to leave online wagering out of its prohibition on Internet gambling, we have gradually been increasing the types of bets we offer online," said Tricia Wunsch. "But we have moved quite slowly and kept a fairly low profile."

Meanwhile, Tabcorp's computer system coped well with the demand. The computer system, which has crashed twice in the past six years, is completely separate from the TAB Web site, Wunsch said.

Tabcorp wasn't the only bookmaker to see a spike in bets during the race.

NetTAB, the online betting arm of the NSW-based TAB Ltd., more than doubled last year's takings of AU $1.4 million after strong online interest in the spring carnival. eBet, which runs the New Zealand TAB Web site, processed about 30,000 bets during the race.

Company officials with NetTAB said they were able to accommodate a large number of punters in the days before the Cup.

"NetTAB has been opening 900 new accounts a week in the lead-up to the carnival, which is very strong, and we were actually encouraging people to open accounts online," a spokesman said.

Last year, he said, 2,150 new accounts were opened on the day of the race. That figure was surpassed this year, although final numbers won't be known until next week.

NSW TAB ran print advertisements in daily newspapers, urging people to "avoid the Melbourne Cup queues" by betting online.

Darwin-based International All Sports, which launched racing portal in the lead-up to the race, saw record takings after an encouraging Derby Day.

IAS executive chairman Mark Read reported that total turnover from the Derby was AU $2.34 million, up from AU $1.8 million in 2000; AU $420,000 worth of bets were made online.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald that in another five years he expects most of the bets to be made online. IAS takes about 30 per cent of its bets online, up from 10 per cent one year ago.

Read also said the amount of interest shown in the Cup proved that bettors defy the norm during a slow economy.

"History shows that horse betting is pretty insensitive to a slower economy," he told the paper. "People pull their money out of equity markets in uncertain times, so they've got it as disposable income and many decide to give it a run on our markets."

Wunsch said the percentage of bets Tabcorp generates online is lower than IAS's, but it is still figure they are pleased with.

"Internet gambling is two or three percent of our account betting (telephone and Internet betting combined) and account betting is running at between 20 and 30 percent of annual turnover," she said.

Sports Books Cash in on Melbourne Cup is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith