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INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS
A month ago, Matt Tripp had not even launched BetR and now, after an extraordinary Melbourne Cup, he has masterminded its rise to among the most prominent betting brands in Australia.
The figure of the bookmaker occupies a special place in Australian society. In a culture which has historically sought to cut down the tall poppy, the man with the bag and the swagger on the stand represented a challenge to egalitarian ideals and a target for the masses on the betting ring floor.
From influential and controversial historical figures like John Wren to the three generations of Waterhouses who have courted punters and headlines in equal measure, the ‘bookie’ has added a competitive and promotional edge to the racing industry, helping turn if from ‘a sport of kings’ to an obsession of the working and middle classes.
Long before ‘gamification’ became a buzzword of sports executives, the battle between bookie and punter converted an equine athletic contest into a battle of human wits and wills. It energised interest in racing and helped make it, for a large part of the last 150 years, a national pastime.
It’s been a while since the betting ring thronged with the contest of bookies and punters, yet the industry, commercially at least, has continued to thrive. Now instead of taking on the man on the stand, punters are now in battle against their own devices, on apps hosted by global corporations, backed by algorithms and sophisticated marketing, which restrict those who can win and prime those who are destined to lose with bonus bets and boosted odds. Punters have never had it better, but in many ways, the contest has never been more uneven.
A generation who grew up with bookies as natural rivals are now confronted and affronted by an inundation of advertising which tells them that these corporate behemoths are a key part of their social network, a way to connect and share the fun with others. Their mates.
The betting ring has changed a lot in the corporate bookmaker era. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
If there is one man in Australia who has more influence than any other in this revolution it has been Matt Tripp. A second-generation bookie turned entrepreneur and innovator in the corporate wagering space, he built what is now Australia’s biggest corporate bookmaker, Sportsbet, then built another, CrownBet/BetEasy, leveraging its assets to sell it effectively the same people that bought Sportsbet.
When corporate bookmaking surged off the back of a couple of landmark legal cases in Australia in the late 2000s, Tripp read the play better than anyone else. He prioritised product development and marketing over ‘board odds’ and built an engaged and mass audience. That value was proved in terms of potential corporate acquisition as opposed to core bookmaking business.
The numbers tell the story. The 2011 Sportsbet sell-out to Paddy Power was valued at $338 million. Then BetEzy, bought for $10 million in 2014, went through various ownership and brand changes, to Crownbet and then BetEasy, before Tripp and his executives exited in 2019 with over $150 million for their remaining 20 per cent share after the merger with Sportsbet and takeover by Flutter.
The aura that Tripp, the bookmaker turned star wagering entrepreneur, built around him was such that there was constant speculation about where and when he would return. In the end he partnered with one of the world’s biggest media companies, Newscorp, in his BetR venture.
While BetR had the assistance of NewsCorp’s considerable media assets to promote themselves, in a much more mature Australian wagering environment it is difficult for any new wagering player to get cut through in a market so saturated with advertising and promotions.
State governments also have imposed significant restrictions on sign-up inducements for companies, while they have clambered for a share of the wagering pie through Point of Consumption taxes which have cut into margins. These increased hurdles were concerns that Tripp himself voiced on his exit from BetEasy in 2019.
An attempt by the new consortium to purchase Pointsbet’s Australian business in June this year, a deal which would have netted circa 200,000 customers at a reported cost of $220 million, fell over, leaving BetR with a mountain to climb to gain traction, audience and attention during the peak spring racing season.
BetR supremo Matt Tripp. (Photo: Melbourne Storm)
The new brand only launched in mid-October and it is fair to say no corporate bookmaker in history has garnered such extraordinary coverage in its first three weeks in existence.
The key to that was Tripp returning to that old bookmaker trope, putting himself up on the stand again, virtually at least, and offering $101 odds on any runner in the Melbourne Cup and $21 for any runner in the Cox Plate. The maximum investment was $10.
The punters came in droves to take the $21 about Anamoe to win the Cox Plate and they came in further swarms to snap up the $101 about Cup favourite Deauville Legend.
Getting value for paid media (ie advertising) in such a crowded marketing as wagering ahead of the Melbourne Cup is extremely difficult, but the genius in Tripp’s approach was that the $101 offer generated acres of what is known in marketing circles as ‘earned media’, and what in previous generations was called column inches.
BetR’s massive liability on Deauville Legend became the story of Australia’s most high-profile horse race as punters scrambled to sign themselves, wives, girlfriends, partners, dogs, cats, whatever up to get the ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to get a ‘free $1000’.
It was an expensive way to garner customers, but a cheap way to garner publicity.
With BetR trying to minimise their liability on Deauville Legend by betting large sums off with other providers, including the TAB, and punters who were on at the $101 trying to lay off on Betfair, the impact on betting markets was unprecedented.
Robbie Waterhouse, Australia’s most famous bookmaker of the past forty years, described it as the most extraordinary Melbourne Cup in terms of betting he had ever seen, and it is fair to say Robbie has seen plenty.
. @RobWaterhouse “The most extraordinary betting race of any Melbourne Cup”
Rob’s review of the 2022 Melbourne Cup from the betting POV pic.twitter.com/9jLulqbVff
— RobWaterhouse.com (@RobWaterhouse1) November 4, 2022
As Deauville Legend loomed up at the 400-metre mark, a betting nation took sudden delight that the man on the stand was about to be taken down. But the import’s challenge faltered, Gold Trip won, and Matt Tripp dodged a $50 million payout.
The cost of the promotion was considerably less, around $2-$3 million and BetR now have 300,000 customers, making them now one of the top five bookmakers in the country. Regulators are investigating whether the tactic sat within the legal limits when it comes to inducing new account holders, but given the publicity and customers earned by the exercise, it is unlikely to seriously concern Tripp or his investors.
Tripp’s successful return to Australia’s biggest stage and the theatre of the virtual bookies’ ring was a triumph. Once again, the bookie walks away the winner and the rest of us can only plot our revenge.
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