Rumi Irani has always liked a flutter but the gamble he took on buying a Nedlands TAB franchise turned out to be - in poker terms - a bad beat.
What looked to be a strong hand in the early days, with a steady stream of high-income locals, university students and old-school gamblers, later turned out to be a loss-maker. Mr Irani bought a half share in the outlet for $450,000 in 2009, including fees and taxes, and estimates a 50 per cent drop in the outlet's value and income due to the rise of online gambling.
GMO business brokerage firm said it was part of a broader trend as TABs faced fierce competition from online, mobile and TV gambling sites from all over the world.
"It's a 1990s business model facing the challenges of the digital revolution," managing director Graham O'Hehir said.
Nonetheless, Mr O'Hehir believes TABs still have a future but need to start offering a range of other services as well as gambling in a bid to appeal to a broader population. He said TABs connected to pubs were most likely to survive the digital assault because they offered a sociable environment.
Mr Irani said he was disappointed at the trend from a business perspective but was more concerned at the trend for its potential to cause problem punting.
He likened gambling to alcohol, claiming it was enjoyable in moderation but dangerous in excess.
"You can enjoy a drink if you go to the pub or you buy some beer and have it at home," he explained. "But imagine if alcohol came out every time you turned on the tap.
"This is what is happening with online gambling. People can bet through their phones, their computers and even their televisions."
Mr Irani said TAB outlets encouraged people to also enjoy the social aspect of punting, such as discussing the form guide, the horses or the trots with fellow punters, whereas online gambling was often a solitary pursuit where the sole focus was money.
A Federal Government report last May indicated the rising phenomenon, with an estimate that Australian punters blew almost $1 billion a year on overseas online gambling sites.
A spokeswoman for Racing and Wagering WA, which licenses TAB agents, agreed that outlets, like the broader retail sector, were facing growing competition from online sites.
But the spokeswoman said the TAB sector was growing, which proved that TABs could hold their own."WA TAB retail agencies are a significant component of Racing and Wagering WA's growth strategy," the spokeswoman said.
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