The betting ring must innovate if it is to survive
News that William Hill are exiting racecourse betting rings does not come as a big surprise – it had been rumoured – but nevertheless it sends out shock waves now it’s been confirmed. Eighty-two pitches are to change hands.
The first major question it throws up is whether or not returning an SP with the way things are going is sustainable.
The starting price is the market price available “to good money” but dwindling activity in the betting ring where, on quiet days, only a handful of bookmakers stand means “good money” can be difficult to find.
At a recent three-day meeting at Newmarket, one rails bookmaker told me he took fewer than 300 bets on the first two days.
William Hill were often the only major operator in the ring but with their disappearance, albeit that their pitches are being purchased by Sid Hooper, for around £25,000 a pitch, the market could weaken and the creditability of the SP system comes under scrutiny.
The decline of the betting ring has been obvious for a long time.
Online betting has mushroomed, and even at racecourses considerable amounts are wagered through smartphones and tablets, particularly with offers of best price guaranteed and extra place pay-outs. Those offers also mean more money is bet in advance of going to a racecourse.
And while such online offers have become prevalent and to some extent in the high street, not much has changed by way of what’s on offer in the ring.
Erosion of competition
Indeed, it is frequently pointed out that many bookmakers shun one-quarter the odds in 16-plus runner handicaps. And use of exchanges has led to a market where there’s often little difference from one pitch to another – it has become anodyne. Add to this the number of pitches at a course operated by the same organisation, sometimes standing next to each other, and you have further erosion of competition
The only noticeable innovations have been electronic boards, a new generation of which now show horses’ colours and promotional messages, and bookmaker’s joints venturing away from the ring and operating in other part of the course, such as alongside the parade and, in the case of Ascot on Champions Day, inside the grandstand’s premium-priced enclosure among bars and next to pool betting kiosks.
In a way that’s a shame, because it further reduces the circulation of racegoers around the racecourse, but it does mean they are not far away from the sale of alcohol. It would be interesting to know if there is a correlation between the position of a bookmaker in amongst the bars and the average value of a bet, particularly as the day goes on.
The overheads which on-course bookmakers incur are not insignificant and taking fewer than 150 bets in a day isn’t worth turning up for. If racecourses want to maintain the ‘atmosphere’ of the betting ring as part of the attraction of a day at the races, they might want to consider if their bookmaker entry fees are contributing to fewer layers in the attendance.
But those operating in the ring do need to look at what they offer the racegoer, and how they can make it more attractive to bet with them because the current lack of innovation is a major factor in their declining share of the market.