Election betting is a sham, a shabby pretext for free advertising in the media.
BusinessDay called around the betting shops this morning: Tom Waterhouse, Centrebet and Sportsbet.
None would offer a market on the federal election although all three, and TattsBet too (it was too early to put a bet on), advertised a market on their websites.
Tom Waterhouse is touting odds of $1.24 for a Coalition win and Labor is paying $4. Asked if they would take a $1 million bet, the Tom Waterhouse rep went off to see his manager.
No luck there. "It's not something we concentrate on." How about $10,000? "It might be a bit of a push … it's a smaller novelty market."
That's for sure, if the market exists at all, other than to lure journalists into writing it up for free advertising in the press.
How much "novelty" money would Tom Waterhouse accept on the Coalition at $1.24? No clarity on that either.
Then there was Sportsbet. Sportsbet was not offering straight odds, only a 10.5-seat handicap.
Centrebet however, was touting $1.23 for the Coalition and had Labor priced at $4.25.
Would Centrebet accept $1 million at $1.23? Perhaps we should have disclosed here that, as a journalist, we didn't have a lazy $1 million to plunge on Tony Abbott. But we could surely dig it up from a contact. Abbott and Rupert Murdoch are a good bet.
A contact from Melbourne, Andrew (full name withheld), tried exactly this exercise on Monday. And he does have $1 million. The odds were roughly the same for Andrew – although Centrebet's mystical odds appear to have shortened from $1.25 in the past few days.
Same outcome for Andrew. Our inquiries merely corroborated his claim that "the odds are not fair dinkum".
"For organisations prepared to assume a risk of only $720 it's a joke and a sick one," said the punter who found that only Sportsbet would take a bet – and a small one at that: $3000 at $1.24. Centrebet and Tom Waterhouse would not offer him any odds at all, despite their display.
"Bookies betting at say Flemington or Randwick on the rails are obligated to lay a horse for a certain amount. I accept that 'laying off' in the case of political bets is more difficult. But why don't they say in their odds display that they will lay a bet to lose a certain amount? If that were published at say $720, no one would take them seriously."
So the Centrebet rep went off to inquire with his boss if they would take any size bet on the Coalition.
"You will have to start an account first and there is a whole procedure [to go through]," came the reply.
Could they quote any market? Not without starting a Centrebet account.
The official spiel is this: "Betting on the Australian federal election is easy with the team at Centrebet. We offer the best odds online for both Labor and the Liberal Coalition, providing you more value for your betting dollar."
No you don't.
The media is complicit in this free advertising as exotic-product odds regularly appear in the press. Six months ago, Andrew tried to put a bet on which bank would deliver the highest net profit. Sportsbet was offering a market.
Commonwealth Bank, he says, was quoted at $1.50. He asked for $100,000 and was offered only $500. Mind you, as the profit forecasts are pretty well established in the market of bank analysts' forecasts, $1.50 seems generous odds.
As for these election odds, it is a good bet, perhaps odds-on, they breach the Competition and Consumer Act.
Betting agencies have responded to this story by saying they do accept bets on the federal election. Big bets would be assessed on their merits. Larger bets were likely to come close to election day.
As it is difficult to lay off these bets it may be a matter of building the book - taking more Labor bets at longer odds, for instance, before accepting bigger bets on the Coalition.
One operator said that the exotic market was now deeper than it used to be therefore not as directed towards free advertising any more.
One clarification is that Sportsbet does offer straight election bets, not just handicaps.
Correction: The original version of this story suggested that election betting might breach the Trade Practices Act. This should have said the Competition and Consumer Act.
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