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While racing has prevailed through COVID-19 behind closed doors, engaging new punters to the sport, particularly through winter when there were no other offerings, the 'salt of the Earth' bookie has felt the pain.
Of Victoria's 155 bookies who are part of the state's bookmaker association, only 25 are likely to operate on Tuesday from home either online or over the phone.
That means 130 bookies remain out of business nearly nine months after racing shut its gates to the public, in a bitter blow to those bag carriers who have been part of the fabric of Australian racing.
Boomaker Warren Woodcock will take bets remotely on Melbourne Cup. Credit:Joe Armao
"These members are not big rails bookmakers who are turning over millions, they're the small bookmaker, the battlers that have very small business or have par- time jobs and complement their income through bookmaking," Victorian bookmakers' association joint chairman Lyndon Hsu told The Age.
"They're the salt of the Earth part of the membership base. For the other 23 bookmakers, they're either online or telephone or both and they're turning over really good money."
One of those who has transitioned online is Warren Woodcock, who on the eve of the Melbourne Cup would be one of three bookmakers taking bets at Crown Casino's Call of the Card, which did not go ahead on Monday.
"I have to say I feel slightly blessed in a funny way about it because I don't think I've ever had a field I've had less confidence in taking punters on," Woodcock quipped, adding he'll sleep better on Cup eve knowing he won't be standing to lose half a million dollars.
Business has been good for most bookies who have kept operating virtually since March, but like the fashion, hospitality and tourism industries that rely on Cup week to make up a large portion of their annual intakes, the bookies are expecting to take a hit on Tuesday.
"I'm expecting my hold on the Cup, which is usually up a quarter of a million with the Call of the Card business, I'll be lucky to hold $50,000 tomorrow," leading rails bookmaker Mark Sampieri said.
"My business all year has been pretty good but this time of year we really rely on the on-track money. It's like Christmas for the retailers this week so the fact we're missing out puts pressure on all the bookmakers and I'm one of them."
But it wasn't without trying that the bookmakers could have been on course at Flemington this week.
Had the VRC successfully convinced government to allow some crowds to attend, a proposal had been made to host a selection of bookies on course, albeit any transaction would have required contact-less technology. Of course, that never eventuated.
Woodcock, who will spend Tuesday at home taking bets over the phone and online, said he'll miss not carrying the bag on Cup day.
"If they let me go to Flemington tomorrow, set up my little stand on the grass with no people in a 400-foot circle, I'd be happy to just wave to a few people as they walk by," he said.
"Sitting at home and holding as much money or more money online is something a lot of guys might choose to do when the gates open again but you can rest assured I'll be at every meeting I get selected by the system to go to."
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