On Course Bookies – Fred Watts

Melbourne bookmaker Fred Watts, 57, has been fielding for 33 years and sees Betfair as the most significant change in betting he’s seen in that time; generally, a boom to him and a something of a Godsend to all.


Betfair Betting Exchange: A Plus for Everyone

“I think it’s been a plus for everybody. It helps the average punter even if he doesn’t bet with Betfair as it both forces, on occasions, and allows bookmakers to bet a much lower percentage. We’d be as low as 105 per cent these days on some races in town which is a lot, lot lower than the old days and I reckon Betfair is the single reason why you will still find bookies on track at bush meetings.

“And the Betfair market tends to tell a more accurate story than any other. I think it’s 99 per cent influenced by the big punters. It becomes pretty obvious when the ‘right’ money is on. And, for me, I know I can lay a horse on track to say the owners and know that I will be able to lay off if required on Betfair.

“You can still lay off to some degree on the tote and with other bookies but that’s become harder and harder especially if you’re fielding at a small meeting,” Watts said.


Benefits for On Course Bookmakers

Thirty plus years of fielding at around 200 meetings per year is a telling schedule pursuing something which is not always ‘a licence to print money’ as most punters imagine.

In Watts’s case, he estimates the cost of running his business would be around $120,000 per year and says he was treading water a lot of the time before the advent of Betfair. And starting $120,000 behind was even with the economy of he and his partner Jodie working 80-90 per cent of the meetings. “It’s just me and her most of the time,” he said.

He also says he could save money buying his own computer system but that’s too great a risk in this technological, Betfair age. “You can’t be off line so you’ve got to have the guaranteed and immediate back up which comes with hiring which costs about $30,000 a year,” he said.

“The fundamentals of bookmaking haven’t changed. There’s still no point laying the 6/1 pops if you can’t lay the 6/4 favourite and you can still get caught. They backed one quick and late at a recent Pakenham meeting and I just had to stand it…. but the opportunities and the markets across the board are wider and I’m happy to say I’ve done well since Betfair came in.

“I was right into it six months after it came in and perhaps I saw the potential sooner than a few others. Before Betfair, I was working off the rails and struggling to increase my hold but it began to build and I’d say within 12 months it had multiplied by about five from $1-2 million to $7-8 million,” he said.


Competition on the Course

“This financial year has been tough. I’m sure as hell hoping it’s a one off,” he jokes before adding that, “there’s much less money on the ground and the cash on course isn’t what it used to be.”

Watts knows the ‘used to be’ having started 33 years ago when, at 24, he was one of the youngest bookmakers in the State and graduated quickly from the picnics to the country to Melbourne and eventually to the rails. “From memory, then you had to have $30,000 to get your licence and I think I managed to sock away the ‘living away allowance’ I was getting at the time working for Telstra,” he said.

He’s still happy to return to the bush but provides an interesting perspective to the biggest of the ‘bush’ meetings, Warrnambool in May.

“It’s very competitive down there. You’ve got 18 strong bookies on the rails at Warrnambool, there’s only 17 on the rails on Melbourne Cup day. Your expenses are higher and I only just won there this year but I’ll admit it can be a goldmine for many of the ‘smaller’ bookies if the results fall the right way,’ he said.


Mitigating Risk

Speaking of the (Melbourne) Cup, Watts says that Prince Of Penzance winning at 100/1 could have been a disaster but for Betfair. “I laid $200 each way to at least two punters on track and it was my worst result before I backed it to win $50,000 on Betfair at around 120 -130/1,” he said.

Watts might be described as a touch ‘old school’ given that he still bothers to do the form rather than rely exclusively on market intelligence. “I’d probably spend three hours a meeting doing the form – perhaps a bit less in town – but coupled with physically operating at the meetings, it is pretty time consuming,” he said.

And, of course, there is the obvious degree of pressure handling significant transactions. And that all spilled over at Ballarat earlier this year when RVL stewards fined him for ‘conducting himself in such a manner that was “aggressive and loud” towards a club official.’

“Yes, there was a bit of an altercation at Ballarat. I don’t think I did the wrong thing. Honestly, it was an impossible work place. The noise was deafening from the PA while I’m trying to answer phones, take huge bets and deal with the on-course punters. I just wanted the PA turned down…,” he said.


Three Steps to Improve Your Punting

Watts has three key points of advice for those looking to improve their punting:

  1. Always explore the opportunities of the early odds. I’m always happy to lay one at, say, $2.50 on Thursday night if you are confident it will get out in the betting on race day.
  1. If you’ve missed the price, don’t bet. Punters are inclined to think all the big shorteners win but not enough of them do win to justify being on at the bottom price.
  1. Remember that where there’s smoke there’s fire. Look at horses who were well backed last start who didn’t necessarily win; was there a reason, were they unlucky?

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