Racing: TAB hanging up on phone betting

By Michael Guerin

Phone betting will soon be a thing of the past at the TAB. Photo / Doug Sherring
Phone betting will soon be a thing of the past at the TAB. Photo / Doug Sherring

The days of ringing up the TAB for a bet will soon be over for all but a few customers.

But racing bosses are adamant all customers will still be able to get a bet on, just not by talking to an operator.

Phone betting through an operator will cease from August 1 for all but those customers with medical conditions which mean they can not use the TouchTone or online services.

The shift away from an operator-based phone service to an automated one will see 43 jobs lost in Christchurch, with Racing Board chief executive John Allen saying the NZRB has been working with those employees of their futures.

"We are helping them look at their options but we also understand, as do they, that some will not be able to find other roles within the Racing Board in Christchurch because we only have so many positions there," says Allen.

While ringing your bets through to a telephone operator is a tradition some, particularly older, TAB customers will be disappointed and even angry to see go, the numbers using Phonebet has reduced incredibly in the last 15 years.

In 2001 there were around 30 million calls a year to Phonebet, last year that had reduced to 2.5million calls.

They come from around 10,000 customers who still regularly use the service, out of the TAB's roughly 250,000 customers.

The major reason punters haven't been picking up the phone has been the enormous boost in online betting, which is clearly the future for the TAB, as it is proving to be around the world.

Among the remarkable TAB stats is that only three per cent of new customers use the Phonebet service.

Older punters who may feel less comfortable online or may not be able to get to retail agencies would appear those likely to be disadvantaged by the changes.

"We realise there will be some customers who won't be happy about no longer having operators but this isn't the end of phone betting, the Touchtone service does pretty much everything Phonebet does," says Allen.

"And it is very simple and fast.

"We are mailing all our Phonebet customers this week and explaining the changes.

"But most customers who can use a phone will be able to use Touchtone and we will have tutorials reminding customers of that airing on Trackside too.

"So we are going to walk alongside these customers to help make the change easier."

Allen says the end of Phonebet operators could ultimately save the industry "millions of dollars", some of which may be used to improve current technology as well as the industry's bottom line at a challenging time.

The Racing Board is quick to allay the fears of those worried that poor old Mum or Dad, Grandpa or Grandma, won't handle the change and won't be able to take their regular Saturday bets.

And there will still be a smaller bank of Phonebet operators based in Wellington for TAB customers who are unable to use other channels --- Touchtone or online -- and can provide a medical certificate to confirm that.

Those customers can call the TAB contact centre for further advice of eligibility to still use the operator service.

The rise and rise of online betting does not mean and end to TAB retail stores any time soon.

"I still see us having retail stores in five and 10 years," said Allen.

- NZ Herald

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