Step in right direction for the Tote, but much still to be done
It’s coming up to the first anniversary of the end of the monopoly on pool betting in Britain. Until last year’s July Cup meeting at Newmarket, the Betfred owned Tote was the only permitted operator.
But, one day into the July meeting, those who met regulatory requirements were able to enter the field. Fortunately, the status quo pretty much prevailed.
Chester racecourse had already ditched the Tote and gone its own way with a fixed-odds offering, much criticised for its poor value.
Almost all racecourses got behind Britbet, the intention of which was to run a pool betting operation both on-course and online. But up against the established Tote, which would carry on, minus its on-course presence, it would mean pool dilution.
A last-minute agreement between Britbet and the Tote meant that Britbet would run pool betting on-course but feed into the Tote pool. They also retained the Tote brand at the tracks, but some racecourse betting shops went under the Britbet banner.
Ascot, again demonstrating their maverick tendencies, set up Bet With Ascot, albeit that they were going to feed their takings into the Tote pool.
Not a lot then happened apart from a deal whereby a financial consortium, Alizeti, acquired a 25% of the Tote with plans to become majority shareholders and build on the potential they identified for pool betting.
The kit that Britbet had installed couldn’t scan Tote betting slips, so bets had to be written out, and then entered into the machines causing early mistake and delays.
And then things pretty much bumbled along, apart from a reduction in the take-out at the Cheltenham Festival.
It took until this year’s Royal Ascot for pool betting to get a shot in the arm.
The first World Pool at Royal Ascot was introduced. With money coming in from 12 jurisdictions ranging from Hong Kong and the US to Australia and Germany, the pools at Royal Ascot reached £92m, compared to last year’s £17m, a 440% increase largely fuelled by Hong Kong.
What the World Pool necessitated for international compatibility was for the take-out to be reduced from 19.5% or 25% (depending on the bet) to 17.5%. It was fortuitous, as the high British take-out has been a constant hindrance to making pool betting more attractive and competitive.
Witness the fact that, despite lower attendance at this year’s Royal Ascot, on-course pool betting turnover was up 3.2%.
Not every bet could be offered in the World Pool, and the IT could not cope with the six races that had more than 24 runners. In 12 of the 24 races, the win divided beat the SP and matched it once. For the same races last year, the SP beat the pool dividend 16 times.
Clearly the World Pool was a major boost, unfortunately it’s a bit of a one-off.
Much needs to be done to make pool betting more attractive and maybe those in control of British pool betting could prioritise lower take-outs for year-two of the non-monopoly era so that it’s not just Royal Ascot dividends which beat the book. Then, pool betting can start to increase its share of the horserace betting market.
♦A footnote to pool betting at Royal Ascot. An occasional but experienced racegoer was standing metres from a Bet With Ascot desk. Where, she asked, was the Tote? It doesn’t help build pool betting when a major track like Ascot dilutes the Tote name with its own brand whilst offering virtually the same bets. It would be good if Ascot could swallow its pride and use the Tote name. It would be familiar to its own racegoers and help strengthen the brand for the benefit of racing as a whole.
Irish Derby clash
The Curragh and the Irish Derby needs all the help it can get, particularly as the new-look Curragh, with splendid general-admission facilities, has still to click with Irish racegoers.
The racecourse now has to contend that Saturday’s classic clashes with an important Gaelic Football match just down the road when the 5.00 throw-in is just 20 minutes before the Derby is due to get underway.
It was always going to be a forlorn hope that the GAA would change the timing of the match as, whatever the merits of avoiding a clash, they are a sports governing body far from receptive to change once they’ve made a decision.
Fortunately, the TV coverage is on Sky and not RTE, who will broadcast the Derby. That would certainly have shrunk the TV audience if it had been a free-to-view game.
A clash with another sport is unfortunate but, as with the Derby at Epsom, it is an ever-present possibility.
The Curragh should to be prepared accordingly and needs to pull out all the stops to sell the Irish Derby in a highly competitive sporting environment.
To add to the problems, there are major roadworks on the M7 route from Dublin. Whether or not the Curragh has any sway with Iaarnrod EIreann is unknown, probably not, but one extra train added to the hourly Dublin service to nearby Kildare would have been of considerable help.