The reputation of the Melbourne Cup may be a little scratched up, but a lot of Australians still like to give it a trot.
Meeting attendance has declined and fewer Australians bet on horse racing – but those who still have a punt are spending more. The Australian Hotels Association, meanwhile, reported that pubs and restaurants are doing a roaring business.
A major report published by Gambling Research Australia in October found that 16.8% of Australians had played horse racing in the past year, up from 22.4% a decade earlier. But revenue continues to increase, from $ 22.9 billion in 2010-11 to $ 26.9 billion in 2018-19 (adjusted for inflation).
CQ University’s senior postdoctoral researcher in the Experimental Gambling Research Lab and report co-author Dr Alex Russell says the apparent gap is because people have stopped gambling, but those who stay are the big guys.
“People who still bet a ton,” said Russell. “Much of this is due to growing online gambling – it has doubled in the last decade. “
Russell said people have come to realize that gambling is not just harmless recreational activity, but something that takes its toll on people and animals.
“We are seeing more and more people saying ‘I hate the game’, or ‘I’m sick of all the commercials’,” he said. “The other thing about the Melbourne Cup and horse racing is that it comes with the issue of animal cruelty.”
There have been seven horse deaths in the past six years during the big race, prompting Racing Victoria to introduce new safety measures. Animal rights protesters have targeted him again this year, joined – inexplicably – by anti-containment activists.
In an article by The conversationRussell pointed to an analysis of tweets from the Melbourne Cup last year that had #nuptothecup, #horseracingkills and #animalcruelty in the top 10.
Cup attendance were steadily declining before Covid changes everything. From a high of 122,736 (when Makybe Diva won in 2003), the numbers hovered to just over 100,000 in the early 2010s before dropping back to 83,471 in 2018 and then to 81,408 in 2019.
Covid meant there were no spectators last year and a ceiling of 10,000 people this year.
Television audiences are also declining, with Nine articles reported last year, although Channel 10 said people were streaming the event live instead.
Gerard Daffy of online sports betting site TAB said the cup may have “lost some of its luster”, with a growing number of international entries. But, thanks to the pandemic, Australians dominate again. He said Incentivize (the pre-race favorite who came second behind Verry Elleegant) was a “flagship title… a Queensland horse from the dark”.
“The Melbourne Cup is the Melbourne Cup,” said Daffy. “It’s the race that stops the nation, it really does, and it always will.”
Australian Hotels Association chief executive Stephen Ferguson said as the crowds on race day gradually dwindled, pubs and restaurants had held up. That was true this year, given capacity restrictions, he said.
“The Melbourne Cup is the starting point for the race over Christmas,” he said.
” It’s always like that. It is one of the biggest days of the year. It’s a festive day, full of reservations. People are social animals, they are looking to get out and connect. Who wants to get on a train to Flemington when you can sit in a pub? “
Russell said that for many people betting on the Melbourne Cup was just an annual pleasure.
“It’s an excuse to take a day off, go to the pub, get dressed,” he said. “There’s always that about it, but a lot of people have had their eyes peeled for everything around it.”