In the Sydney betting ring, there’s a group of old-school bookmakers launching a new-age fightback that could well unlock the key to their future.

Bookmakers' board
Rails bookmakers in the Sydney betting ring are offering a service that aggregates their odds via a new online platform. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

Up against the might of a highly corporatised environment that is fuelled by mind-boggling marketing budgets and the reality that the halcyon days of racetracks bursting at the seams will never return, some of Sydney’s on-course bookmakers are hoping they have found a pathway to survival.

And they want the shrewdest minds in racing to join them: a move they believe will encourage bookmakers and punters to trade with each other on a level once commonplace in a vibrant wagering market.

The time has passed for bookies to wait for the punters to come to them. They are getting off their stands and using technology to drum up business.

Disadvantaged by technology and marketing compared to their corporate rivals, bookies have turned to the old-fashioned notion of price to give them a point of difference. This strategy has been trialled and failed before, but it is hoped that a collective approach will make it work this time.

In what is considered world-first, the digital betting platform BookiePrice offers the best odds available along the rails from affiliated bookmakers at a Sydney metropolitan race meeting.

BookiePrice’s interface is similar to Betfair's, but it is not an exchange where the liquidity and depth of the market are determined by peer-to-peer relationships. There is also no commission to pay on winnings.

Put simply, the no-frills platform shows the top price for a horse in the Sydney ring and the amount a bookmaker is willing to lay.

It is strictly a bookmaker-to-punter transaction, but it does not require multiple individual betting accounts because a single wallet will cover all operators. A receipt is issued stating which bookmaker ‘accepted’ the bet.

BookiePrice has been active for two months. It’s been a soft launch with a firm commitment to answering the challenges on both sides of the betting ledger.

Australian punters face betting markets offering tighter percentages as wagering service providers deal with increased gambling taxes.

Turnover on racing is in decline compared to the pandemic heights. Anecdotally, corporates are reluctant to take on the professionals, and there is often minimal betting action on the exchange until the final two to three minutes before a race starts.

Liquidity is hanging by a thread but bookmakers such as David Dwyer sense an opportunity in times of adversity.

New gambling advertising laws will limit the corporates’ reach and other reforms are on the way but for BookiePrice to make an impact, there needs to be a shift in modern-day wagering culture among the rank-and-file.

Sydney betting ring
On-course betting rings around Australia are moving into a new era with the introduction of BookiePrice. (Photo: Australian Turf Club)

“At the moment it is hard to get someone who is betting with Ladbrokes or the TAB or whoever if they are giving them (deposit) matches all the time or odds boosts and all this sort of stuff,” Dwyer said.

“And that is fine. I mean, if you’re a bookie and you have a good losing customer why wouldn’t you do that? That’s a clever strategy.”

Dwyer is one of the driving forces behind BookiePrice. He says that because most on-course bookmakers in Sydney these days restrict themselves to fielding on Wednesdays and Saturdays only, they are able to stay below the tax thresholds that engulf the major corporates.

For Dwyer, that means on-course operators are usually the best source for competitive percentages and for a start-up business that doesn’t have the spending power of an overseas-owned corporate, that’s prime advertising in itself.

“There's no doubt that the price that (bookmakers) are going to bet on this system will be better than what you're going to get off your top four corporates at any time,” Dwyer told The Straight.

“You're not going to get the bonus bets and you're not going to get the other things (incentives) but you're probably going to get a price.

“The target market is the sharper punter or the reasonable-sized punter who doesn’t really care who they back a horse with as long as they can get on.”

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With many corporate markets being set between an average of 120 and 125 per cent, winning long-term is becoming harder than ever.

The punter experience is not what it used to be, but Dwyer says the bigger operators have no alternative but to take fewer risks under state-based Point Of Consumption Tax models.

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“I'm not blaming the corporates because they've now got to pay 15-25 per cent consumption tax, they've got to pay these taxes that have tripled in the last five years,” he said.

“So they've got to make it up from somewhere so unfortunately the punter has to take shorter prices.”

Dwyer is one of five bookmakers who bring the Sydney ring to an online platform, but there are expectations that the number could double in time for the spring carnival.

BookiePrice also offers markets for other Australian meetings but for now, Sydney racing is its core product.

“The more bookies we get involved in the process the more liquidity that will be there,” he said.

“There's no doubt that the price that (bookmakers) are going to bet on this system will be better than what you're going to get off your top four corporates at any time” - Sydney rails bookmaker David Dwyer

“It's gradually building up but you’re not going to be holding a million (dollars) a day in the first 12 months.

“It's going to take time to do that because you need the punters to gain confidence that it's worth their while to go there and get a reasonable price and they can get on.

“The other side of it is from the bookie's point of view they need to know that they're going to be wanting to make sure that it's a viable proposition for them as well.”