Gambling

Tierce Betting Makes Solid Mobile Debut

The tierce, or trifecta, made its debut in Korean horse racing wagering this past weekend and this new bet type, the seventh to become available on all races in the country, made an immediate impact, despite the pool initially only being accessible through the KRA’s mobile betting application. 

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Tierce odds for one of the very first races to offer it last Friday at Jeju

By Sunday’s final race at Seoul, the Tierce was accounting for 4.3% of the total turnover, higher than Win, Place and Quinella Place pools. The Quinella remains the most popular pool with the Trio (first three in any order) a close second, followed by the Exacta. Overall turnover remained similar to the previous week. The fact that the Tierce will, for the time being, not be available to cash bettors, looks set to provide a major shot in the arm to mobile betting.

Mobile betting has had a predictably shaky start. Despite the name conjuring up images of people having a bet from home on their smartphones, like in a normal jurisdiction, this isn’t the case. Since the regulator ordered the closure of the “KNetz” telephone betting service in 2009 (essentially handing the monopoly in off-course betting to illegal operators), the Authority is only permitted to accept bets on course or at its OTBs. The App therefore can only be used when the device on which it is installed is connected to the”LetsRun Free” Wi-fi connection.

Despite heavy investment in what is a very impressive and user-friendly app (there will be a foreign language version) packed with information, as well as an excellent new lounge at Seoul especially for mobile betting, take-up has not been high and mobile turnover had been declining slightly since its launch. Since April, at least one simulcast race from Jeju Island on Fridays and Saturdays has been designated “mobile only” with no cash bets accepted, however, most punters have looked on those races as opportunities to take lunch or a coffee break.

It’s understandable that punters have resisted. With the regulator wanting all bets to be tracked and to eventually be linked to a bank account with a real name, in a country where gambling – despite being hugely popular – carries a major social stigma, it is seen by many as an unwelcome intrusion into privacy. It also prevents any circumventing of the rules on the maximum betting limit (which can easily be done simply by visiting more than one betting window or terminal before the race), something that is a challenge for both punters and no doubt the Authority alike.

However, the Tierce and its high dividends compared to Stake, is always going to be an attractive bet and it’s a pool that punters will want to play into. Eventually it will be expanded to cash betting too, most likely towards the end of this year. For now though, the signs are that it could be the game-changer that mobile betting has been seeking.

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Gambling Figures Show Korean Racing’s Challenge In Face Of Competition, Regulation

The government last week released figures showing that overall legal gambling in Korea rose slightly in 2014 but that gambling on horse racing was down by 0.7%.

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Punting was slightly down at the races in 2014

Legal betting on horse racing with the KRA amounted to 7.6 Trillion Won (about US$6Billion) in 2014, which remained by far the largest individual share in a betting market worth 19.8 Trillion Won.

Other traditional Korean forms of gambling such as track cycling and motor boat racing suffered falls too while there were significantly fewer bullfighting festivals in the south of the country last year which almost wiped out that particular odd sector of the market.

The Sports TOTO, which enjoys far easier access than racing, being available in convenience stores and allows players to predict results of sporting events at home and overseas, showed strong growth as did Gangwon Land Casino, which saw revenues increase by almost 10%.

Gangwon Land, in the countryside three hours east of Seoul, is currently the only casino in the country where Korean citizens are permitted to play. There are numerous “foreigner only” casinos but their growth was static last year, with the Korea Herald pointing out that this was due to the largely Chinese clientele being subject to stricter anti-corruption rules which kept some former high-rollers away from the tables.

National Gaming Control Commission figures

National Gaming Control Commission figures

Racing is not in competition with the foreigner only casinos, however, recently there have been a number of cases of large casino groups offering significant investment in various regions but only if the government changes the law and allows Koreans to bet in them.

Most recently, the Korea Times reported on the Las Vegas Sands Corp. making what the paper described as a “sly offer” to build a 5 Trillion won casino and resort in Busan – on the condition that Korean citizens can enter. The newspaper went on to note that Busan Mayor Suh Byung Soo likes the plan and has called on the government to revise the laws.

It is hard to imagine many traipsing over the one bridge out of town to the Busan Racecourse in all weathers if that happens. And if Busan can have all that juicy tax revenue from a casino, why can’t Daegu or Daejeon? Or Incheon?

The trouble is that the government has no money and needs to find some. Racing is a huge contributor to the public purse and also plays a significant role in keeping the agriculture sector going, through its various support programs for rural communities. The racecourses have successfully positioned themselves as attractive destinations for families and young couples (Saturday’s mini-riot aside) as anyone who visited the racecourse prior to 2010 and then visits again today will confirm.

This doesn’t make much revenue but it is vital if the Sports TOTO generation are to ever come racing. It also provides a very safe way of legally gambling.

That’s all well and good but if the bottom line is falling then eventually the government is going to look elsewhere. Furthermore the family and young couple aspect stands to be undermined if the government goes ahead with making it compulsory for anyone wishing to have a legal bet to register for an electronic card that will track their spending.

So if that couple on their date at the track wants to bet a couple of dollars to show, they are going to need to register. One can imagine how young Eun Ji’s mother is going to react when she comes across her university age daughter’s gambling card while cleaning her room. Probably best to date at the cinema.

More to the point – and the point that all of the legal gambling operators have been making to the government – is that many bettors will not sign up for an Electronic Card. But they won’t stop betting. They will just find alternatives which don’t require a card and probably dont pay tax either. At least not to the government.

As we head into the second quarter of 2015, the challenges for Korean racing are not only on the track.