Punters talk up bets at Qld TAB

Natural language speech recognition may mark a "sensational shift" in telebetting economics, says TAB Queensland managing director Dick McIlwain.

Impressed by payback from a $3 million investment in voice-enabled systems, the sports and race wagering company is lifting its stake in the technology.

It is implementing a $1 million expansion of its VeCommerce Telebet Express speech recognition wagering application to handle 300 simultaneous phone betting lines.

In the face of a dramatic customer shift to telebetting, the natural language system has helped TABQ clamp a lid on costs, McIlwain said.

The next steps will determine whether Telebet Express moves from a good investment to "a sensational shift in the economics of satisfying the fastest growing part of our market", he said.

Telebet sales have jumped to 23.7 per cent from 15.5 per cent of TAB Queensland's total off-course betting in the last three years.

Over the past year, voice-enabled Telebet Express lines handled 1.4 million successful bets of which only 2 per cent had to be transferred to human operators.

The success of the system has shielded TABQ from having to increase call centre staff numbers despite a 17 per cent lift in sales.

"Adding more and more call centre operators was never going to be the answer," McIlwain said.

"Our cost growth has definitely been contained by the success of the Telebet Express system."

An ASX-listed company, VeCommerce Ltd saw its revenues climb to $23.9 million this year from $5 million.

Its software runs on US company Nuance Communications' voice recognition engine, the same engine that supports Telstra's automated directory information service.

Telstra's natural language application was developed in-house and has attracted customer and press criticism because of the limited number of names it recognises.

By contrast, the TABQ system is claimed to recognise bets of any value placed on any horse on any race on any course in the country -- a total of 300 trillion word combinations.

TABQ's 300 Telebet Express ports are dwarfed by the 1000-port system operated by NSW TAB Ltd, the largest natural language enterprise site outside the US, says VeCommerce marketing manager Nick Flude.

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