Getting attacked at Tabcorp in 1998

By Stephen Mayne
January 17, 2008

The following two stories were published in The Daily Telegraph after the 1998 Tabcorp AGM in Melbourne on October 27.

In the trenches with a grumpy digger

"We're getting a bit of sick of you," growled the grumpy old digger sitting in front of me after I put six questions to Tabcorp's annual meeting.

After sneaking in two final questions for chairman Michael Robinson, he became even more blunt.

"You're a bloody pain in the a...," he snapped from about 25cm away.

"Are you a journo are you?" "Yes, thank you," I mumbled, taking down his comments but studiously avoiding eye contact.

Still, this grump did not seem to discern between good and bad questions as he was equally scathing of those asking about trivialities such as the quality of refreshments and parking availabitity at Melbourne's Carlton Crest hotel.

Mr Robinson nicely took a swipe at Sky Channel, owned by the NSW TAB, for jacking up fees for agents but chief executive Ross Wilson said telephone betting was up 30 per cent since the Sky Pay-TV channel was lauched in September without any noticeable affect on agency turnover.

Mr Wilson, who is about $27 million in front on his 3.86 million shares, botched his slide show and then one-third of the steel supported floor-to-ceiling backdrop collapsed mid-meeting within metres of shareholders.

There's no doubt that delivering almost 500 per cent capital growth has made Wilson a hero amongst small shareholders.

Another $1 million interest free loans to buy more shares was waved through without a murmer from the floor and I wasn't game to risk another attack from the grouchy digger in front.

* Stephen Mayne has bought shares in 50 companies to attend annual meetings for a series in the Daily Telegraph.

Tabcorp's will to win

Tabcorp managing director Ross Wilson yesterday sent this message at the company's annual meeting to the embattled Crown casino: "Don't keep crying foul to the referee."

Mr Wilson also said it was unfair for the Kennett government to promise Tabcorp investors 21,250 Victorian poker machines in its prospectus for the 1994 float but then subsequently limit the company to just 13,750.

This has given Crown and Kerry Packer a big boost and the casino is now trying to rub salt into the Tabcorp wounds by asking for an extra 1000 machines and a cheaper tax rate. Tabcorp's hotels pay up to 42 per cent tax.

In comparison, Crown only pays 22 per cent on its existing 2500 machines and has asked for a cut to 15 per cent. Finally, breaking his silence on Crown's wish list of government concessions, Mr Wilson said gaming companies were well aware of the regulations from the outset.

"When, in fact, you enter a transaction, you know what the rules are and you abide by them, don't keep crying foul to the referee," he said.

However, Mr Wilson said he would be keen to broker concessions if Crown was successful in its attempt.

"In theory, I'd love to have 20 per cent tax. I'm going to save somewhere in the vicinity of $100 million."

Mr Wilson said the group was happy to have achieved a 14 per cent rise in gaming revenue and 9.3 per cent from betting products for the September quarter.

The wagering resurgence was helped by the launch of Sky Channel on pay-TV, but Mr Wilson said Tabcorp would struggle to beat the record $48 million wagered on last year's Melbourne Cup.

Chairman Michael Robinson also told shareholders "preliminary discussions" had begun with Mr Wilson over his five-year contract which expires next August.

"We certainly hope he will be continuing and we have every reason to believe he will."