Ascot is my favourite track, by a nose from York, with Cheltenham a neck third because its Champagne costs more than York’s. Don’t bother giving me your favourite – they’re weighed in I thoroughly enjoy Ascot. Most of the time it’s bullet cheap to race, they do concerts, firework displays, fairground rides for the bookies, countryside fayres and the service standards are the best in the industry. Nothing’s on the cheap. Bath take a peek. Now it includes WiFi. Wow, that’s great. Except when you login and my old mucker King Ralph Topping pops up waving at me from Gibraltar, just like the Racing Post Betting App. I spilled my champagne all over the oysters. Forgetting the customers for just a second, what’s in it for the tracks? First off, it’s not a cheap investment. Putting in WiFi will cost some six figures at a track like Ascot or York. You can’t just bang lots of repeaters in when there’s 40,000 souls involved. It has to be paid for. Now with apologies to some seriously bright track bosses who I routinely engage, I’ll tell you what it’s for. Money. You see to a track, betting is appealing. They may not be considering getting into laying horses or such, but if William Hill are going to pay them a portion of what’s turned over via their WiFi to Gibraltar, then we have a new revenue stream. Topping is no fool, he won’t overpay for the new custom. Forget what Rod Street has to say – ‘it’s a customer focussed initiative.’ That’s hyperbole, and I note with disappointment, another decision he made without consulting stakeholders. It’s about cash. No racetrack is reasonably going to invest in expensive WiFi if it wasn’t expecting something out of the deal. Let’s deal with Rod’s take first; he’s a racetrack man through and through. Is it about customers really? Will it drive footfall to the tracks by improving customer experience? Rod knows it’s about money. He knows everyone’s got 3G already and heading for 4G, and if they really wanted to book a table for dinner or post a picture to Facebook from the track, then that works fine. When a customer thinks of racing – will WiFi seal the deal on attendance when he’s got it already via his iPhone? It won’t make any appreciable difference. Now if you don’t care whether the humble bookie turns up on course and you feel the tracks can do well enough with their own Tote or in-house betting, then read no further. Let’s not waste each other’s time. Most of the people calling me a dinosaur with regards to this subject seem to base their arguments on value and betting. Their views revolve around going racing and achieving the best possible value for their punting pound. Except that they won’t (go racing). Fellas bent on achieving the top of the market in punting don’t get in their Austin Princess and drive 30 miles to Ascot. They sit at home in baseball caps on orange screens and ‘green up’ or ‘cash out’. Woop-dee-doo. You’ve come this far so here’s what a track looks like without bookies.
Still going racing? Hmm, I wonder if you really would? You see bookmakers have been the very fabric of racecourses since they were built. Is it possible or desirable to go the whole hog with a ChesterBet type deal? (I don’t think that represents any value by the way at SP -10%! Turpin wouldn’t have faced the hangman if he’d invented RacecourseBet.) OK, you’re a track boss, you really think you’re going to sell as many tickets if there’s no ring or make as much from it as Bet365 might pay you for turnover? Anyone been to Kempton or Southwell or for that matter Longchamp excepting Arc day? They lack any appreciable atmosphere or flavour. People queue for a bet – then they queue longer to get paid. It’s not sexy. And I like rumpy-pumpy in my racing. So, to the humble bookie, shivering in the ring. He’s invested thousands in a pitch many and drives scores of miles to work and carries in heavy equipment, electronics. He pays support companies to keep him working, taxes and fees to the Gambling Commission. He’ll employ staff to service the customer, pay them out of the profit and their expenses. And finally he’ll hand over to the racetrack not only his entrance costs, but an expensive daily fee to bet and even a marketing fee someone dreamed up. All in all he’s looking at a ballpark minimum, including the startup cost of pitch and equipment of circa £600 a day. He can’t trade at the 103% book offered by someone sitting in his underpants at home with none of those costs to bear. Don’t weep. Seriously though, we all have to be prepared to pay a little extra for service and betting fun.
Yet oddly enough, the tracks now feel the bookie should compete directly with underpants man. Not to mention King Ralph and his lower cost-base technological kingdom. It’s thoroughly unrealistic. The small bookmaker simply cannot withstand an assault from all directions whilst he Consider this. A track’s daily fees from bookies far outweigh what Ladbrokes would pay for the rights to turnover from users on betting apps. And a home layer, fiddling around on Betfair, can now lay bets directly to the track’s customers via these super fast WiFi systems. shoulders the lions share of expenses. You’ve come this far- step the last mile with me. Modern day technology provides all the social networking a customer requires. If he wants to post a picture of him and his girlfriend (or boyfriend) on Twitter holding a plastic cup – he can do it. There’s no bother on his existing network. Experience proves however that it’s simply not fast enough to cope with Betting Apps or Exchange business when there’s even 5000 users at a track. Data becomes treacle slow and I seriously doubt 4G will revolutionise the bandwidth issue. It deals with speed of data and if there’s lots of folk on the internet clogging up the mast the system breaks down because the issue is the number of users sharing the line. Hardly surprising that those screaming loudly in favour of WiFi and calling me a T-Rex are frustrated they cannot go racing and fiddle about on Betfair. They foresee WiFi as speeding up that issue. And they’re right; it will. But what of the bookie standing in the ring who’s paid for the right to bet through every pore in his body? Whilst the track finds one revenue source it didn’t have before, it will lose not only the fees it generates from the ring – but the ring itself. It’s not the final nail of course, I’m not saying that, but if were you running a little business on track, how much pressure from the internet bookies do you think you could stand? What percentage of a track’s customers frequent the ring, view, or feel it adds a sense of British to their day?
My solution is one which satisfies customers, except those who expect betting permanently on the cheap. Block all access from racetracks from WiFi to betting sites. They’re not paying to bet to bettors at Ascot as other track stake holders do. That’s a key point. Customers rights are unaffected, they can use their 3G anyway to post photos of pictures standing next to Rod Street and his nice new suit. If you walk into a restaurant you can’t pull out a sandwich. In the same vein if you love the betting ring you have to compromise on what you should expect from a racetrack. Tracks shouldn’t be biting the hand so casually that’s fed their business for so long.