Newbury works hard. Not easy being the one down the road from Ascot. They host a very good Winter Festival and put up a pile of prize money, which is not always snapped up by connections. I saw a lot of happy faces in the crowd last weekend enjoying three cracking handicaps won by the ambulances! They got stuck into the betting with gusto on those. They’ve introduced a dress code for their Members Enclosure that could hardly be described as draconian. Without boring you on the detail – jeans are out, jacket and slacks are in. You don’t need a tie. Girls aren’t allowed to wear very short skirts which is a shame as far as I am concerned as I enjoy the view, but I understand the sentiment. There’s some scruffy urchins about these days. Supermarkets with the exception of Waitrose, are the best place to see them. Jeremy Kyle has a lot to answer for. Standards all over the place are slipping and the establishment do not approve! Most amusing of all is the ranting from certain racing journalists on the subject. Not for them hard hitting exposes on Godolphin, field sizes, Levy deals, or the integrity of Racing. They prefer to cover far more weighty matters such as why can’t they wear their jeans in Members. There’s a dress code at Ascot, one at York and another at Goodwood. These have been in place since 1485. But for little Newbury to move to improve standards in their Premier Enclosure, that’s apparently beyond the pale. I note with disdain the Racing Post with column after column on the subject. Anything affecting their sponsors barely merits a paragraph. Empty vessels tend to make the most noise. Newbury should take an advert out in the paper – see what happens to the coverage then. Is anyone considering the long standing Annual Members of racetracks? They are happy to make an effort to dress appropriately and are proud to do so. There were thousands who walked into Newbury’s Premier Enclosure at the weekend looking a million dollars. It’s in no way unreasonable of them to seek an enclosure of like-minded folk. Is their view of no importance or should we just listen to the moaners in their jeans? Incidentally, £80 is bog average for a pair of jeans these days. Members invest annually in the racetrack and seek a certain standard of dress and facilities. If they were interested in dressing down they could join the Silver Ring and then we wouldn’t have Club enclosures. We have a tiered system in Racing on our Racetracks. I for one am very much in favour of it. I want to be with other smart folk. If people want to wear their jeans to racetracks; they can change outside in their Vauxhalls. Let’s deal with some inaccuracies. Nobody was ‘turned away’. Those without ties were admitted to the Premier. Newbury may have been a bit overbearing in checking attire, but there’s always a teething stage. Nobody was strip searched. Ladies were not required to look Victorian. Another myth – Racing is too class based. That’s nonsense. I expect to rub shoulders with exhaust fitters, shop assistants, Poles, MPs – even Bankers in Members. They let anyone in apparently! Seriously though, you are welcome in any Enclosure on any race day, provided you’re prepared to dress appropriately. You don’t have to dress like Basil Fawlty in that ridiculous tweed I believe they should outlaw. So speaking as the best dressed Bookmaker in the land, I give the new dress code a solid thumbs up. I’d wager Newbury’s Members would too. If a few hacks don’t get in because they like the ‘on the sofa’ look, no loss. Mst don’t have a lot to say anyway. Whilst we’re on the topic of standards and racetracks looking to improve them, I’m in favour of racetracks smartening the whole experience up and appealing to everyone. Where I’d roundly criticise tracks is their drinking policy. Or complete lack of. Racing has become the standard bearter for the plastic cup. And I do not approve. Some even serve their customers bottles of overpriced Champagne in plastic beakers. Imagine! (York – look away, I don’t include you!) This practice is just unacceptable. Smarten up here guys. You simply cannot expect people who enjoy a fine drink to pay you top dollar so you can save on the washing up. Lame excuses about health and safety won’t wash, along with the plastic. It’s an excessively cheap approach. Let’s deal with one other red herring here. There’s no health and safety directive on glasses being used in bars. It’s just cheaper to use plastic than wash glasses, which involves staffing and occasional breakages. Betting rings used to be sacrosanct areas for drinkers. Now we’re surrounded by plastic pint toting crowds. It can be a fairly vulgar environment. Some venues have become positively dangerous in their rings. Fights often breaking out uncontrollably for several minutes, whilst security waits on an appropriately trained response team. Let’s be honest here folks; fighting at racetracks has nothing to do with a dress code. It’s about the proliferation of alcohol. But hey, don’t let the facts spoil a good story. To boot, health concerns take second place to profit. I wonder at the impact on our wellbeing from drinking out of poor quality plastic and the long term impact on the environment? Now I understand why the plastic cup has appeared. Money. No issue with that. Racetracks have to profit like any other business. I’m not objecting to free sales around the tracks in open areas using plastic. I see absolutely no reason however, for those inside the bars to be subjected to these nasty vessels. Especially at £4.50 a pint! We’re not Football. To continue on this path leads Racing inevitably along the hooligan path the soccer folk eventually had to tackle. One last request to my friends running tracks. It’s fine it you want to sell thousands of pints a day but for the good of the Sport, spend a lot more money on private security to ensure the safety and wellbeing of patrons from those whose excesses turn to violence. No track appears immune to that. Adopt a football like scheme to ban those who fight from our lovely racetracks. Furthermore, create havens in your tracks for patrons to enjoy. They should be free of plastic and for those smart enough to appreciate it. We’re not all oiks and some spend a lot of money enjoying our racing.
OK, so £47.5 million is what the big four betting operators have guaranteed Racing. And of course it heralds a new era of cooperation between bookmakers and Racing. We’re all friends now eh? Let’s give due credit for the £8 million offered by Betfair – money they didn’t have to offer the Levy by statute. The Leaders In Racing conferences with keynote speakers led by Andy Hornby of Coral, was livened up with a call for Racing to support FOBT’s. In doing so Racing gets to keep more shops open, with the potential for more business on UK horse racing. We’re all very encouraged by this new era of cooperation between the new Racing, headed up by Paul Bittar, and the representatives of the largest betting organisations funding it. Top marks for heralding in a new era and spirit of bonhomie between the parties.
Now I’m a bookie, and by nature an independent. I pay my taxes and Levy at the going rate, and my data is an open book. So you’ll take what I say with a pinch of salt perhaps, because such independent organisations as my own are rivals in business to the majors. But hold on a minute, this ‘guarantee’ is significantly lower than Racing has achieved from the Horse Race Levy for many a year. Outstanding?
Let’s forget the Levy Board’s estimates. They can’t predict results and nor can the Bookies. Nor can they in any way determine how much of Ladbrokes or Corals is lost by attrition offshore. The Levy over the last 6 years has fluctuated between a low of £60m and a high of £115m
What’s the crowing about a deal which falls £9 million underneath the lowest we’ve ever achieved? In fact, why bother even considering it? If you want Bookmakers to cooperate with Racing, shut them out of racetracks and TV companies and the like. And turn to the Government for support. Don’t worry, they’ll come quietly. Steepledowns won’t fill the book.
The multiples are popping champagne corks, and drinking to Bittar and Lee. That’s not meant as a joke. Now, were I them, I’d take all my top losers to Gibraltar because I’d know my duty bill would be topped out at £450,000, and my Levy capped at 10m. The extra £4.5 between the parties per year is in effect the same bribe to Racing that Betfair volunteered. The new way, if they won’t pay the going rate, let them pay what’s comfortable. Racing is now ‘off the back’ of the big six, because the deal is struck. No beating down the doors of Westminster to complain. And of course for four years, they can hive off as much racing business as they like offshore and pay £11 million each. Lovely biscuits.
Paul Bittar, is he the saviour of British Racing or a second hand car salesman whose business plan is to take the lowest funding level? I care little about the stories of meetings over months and coffee time buddying up if this is the end product. Bookmakers and exchanges can pay more because their offshore duties, tax and now levy are all so low. But of course they sponsor races. Fine.
Because it’s wrong. Because it’s the lowest level achieved for many a year. Because I know the Bookmakers and Exchanges can afford to pay a lot more. Their cost base in particular with regards to duty and tax, is so low in the offshore states that house their empires.
Why would Racing go into battle against the bookmakers for with two racecourse Supremos? I don’t believe Racetracks should be negotiating on behalf of racing with their most important sponsors.
No the BHA should have been going into bat with someone like me quite frankly. Not that I’m looking for the job, I’m making a point. There’s this incredible snobbishness which I find so counter productive to the good of the sport. The BHA is flush with racetrack people, Data analysts, solicitors, owners, even trainers. Yet so many decisions hinge on the betting product which underpins the finances. Not least of all, finding the right fixture levels and putting on the best balanced programme. Betting isn’t the dirty side of Racing, it is for most folk, very much what its all about. Finance is a critical part of any business, why does the BHA ignore it? I’ve heard the call for ‘Punter’ representation for many a year at High Holborn. A valid point to be fair.
As an expert in betting pointed out to me yesterday, the Fixture List has 90% of the same meetings for as long as we can remember and within each meeting are the very same races. The beginners chase at Sandown yesterday won by Hinterland always has small fields! Sandown in January had a meeting where four of the races worth a combined £50,000 had fewer than 8 runners each, but it’s been similar for many years. If the course had looked at their data they’d have changed the races, conditions, age group, distances, even a card with six handicaps. Isn’t it the role of race planning at the BHA to look at these issues? I’m assuming we’ll end up with the same ‘Super Saturday’ next year.
My final point is the timing. We’re less than a year before point of consumption comes into play. At the moment, you can buy a cup of coffee made in the High Street, served by British staff, and sit peering out of the window at a red bus. In the meantime, the tax for that transaction is paid in Holland. I don’t believe for a second point of consumption, if it gets through Parliament, represents the Holy Grail. Everything else is circumvented, so will this be. Gibraltar won’t fall into the Mediterranean any time soon. Result for Racing? More, not less custom offshore. More dependency on a ‘guarantee’ of £51 million. If I was King Ralph of William Hill, I’d cheerfully move more of my best offshore.
Some key statistics:
January to March – 21% of all races, spread evenly between both codes, contained an odds on favourite.
June, July, and August – 15% of all races involved an odds on chance. A third of which were shorter than 1-2
In July and August, 42% of racing had less than 8 runner fields and only 2.6% of handicaps contained 16 or more runners and 8% of all handicaps had either 3 or 4 runners! 41% of ALL handicaps in those months – less than 8 runners!
The effect of odds-on chances? In August, 35% of races returned an SP of 2% a runner or worse. In September, 30% of all races returned the same. Attractive? In June, July, August and September, there were only 4 days not containing an odds-on favourite.
Let’s look at the Chief Executive’s arguments on fixture levels. He says 1464 is the right level for Racing. This argument backed up by such as Andy Hornby of Coral. He argued that to put on a third meeting daily midweek increased his turnover by 30%. We’re talking about shop turnover here. In the same speech he then muddles the word ‘profit’ into the same argument at the same level. In other words he argued a third meeting every day would represent 30% more for the Levy.
That’s a distortion of the facts. To argue that turnover equals profit directly simply isn’t true. It might be true in the case of Waitrose, because turnover is more directly linked to profit. It’s a mistake King Ralph would not make, but then he never ran Boots. But I can assure you folks, in Racing the same is most certainly not the case. If you put on low field sizes, with odds on chances riddling the events, there are a Levy minefield. There are bad races. Punters simply do not like wagering in races containing odds on favourites.
Levy income is directly related to quality, competitiveness and field sizes. Punters don’t groan at 7/1 the field – they embrace it. Hornby wants Racing every ten minutes, because it adds to the vibrancy of his arcades. He wants a customer to walk in at lunch (when nobody wants to go Racing by the way) and sit on his machines generating £900 a month whilst the Racing provides the buzz.
So here’s Bittar’s thesis. Get into bed with the largest organisations. Openly support their machines and provide fixture levels they demand. In doing so he keeps the shops actually in business and increases the pot. Even going so far as to introduce racing on Good Friday in support of the LBOs. The argument for which will prove to be a sham in less than a year. ARC will be fortunate to pull in a million in sponsorship. I don’t doubt they can afford the gamble, given many of their races run for £1940.
There are 28 betting shops in Newmarket. Shops are literally yards apart. Do we need that many to service Racing in one little town? So what if we lose a few arcades? Racing isn’t the focus. Perhaps we should be about making it exactly that, with measures to improve field sizes and margins in the sport? I have argued for a substantial cut in the level of fixtures. Racing has become boring too much of the time. I rarely pass a shop every day without sticking my head in. I haven’t had a bet in an LBO since I was a lad, but I like to see what’s going on. For large parts of the programme they’re empty. British Racing is littered with fun festivals and events and cracking racing. But let’s cut the programme by just 100 fixtures and monitor the real effect. Hardly a slash and burn is it?
So let’s look at integrity. For many of you I appreciate this is a new subject. Certainly if you buy the Racing Post every day, you’re unlikely to find any exposes on this important area. And if the leading trade paper ignores the subject, it’s hardly at the forefront of most people’s minds, especially if you don’t bet.
Does integrity matter? The sport is underpinned by bettors. What is hugely underestimated, and certainly not understood, is the damage caused to customers’ confidence when they see something drift from 6’s to 16’s or greater and run down the park. It’s treated with derision in the shops. I tell you plainly, this is not happen-chance most of the time, although just enough drifters win to cause doubt. Equally its utterly routine to watch a horse backed fro 12/1 to 9/4 hose up in spite of its recent form.
Condoned? Trawl through the list of enquiries taking place at the BHA and you’ll find a glaring hole. Non-triers. It’s like the subject simply doesn’t exist. Oh sure, we get the odd case running through, and the sentences are generally harsh. It’s the spin. British Racing will react with vigour if you break the rules.
If it’s the regulators role to police the sport, then Bittar is failing in his duty of care to the image of this sport by not grasping the nettle. Heralding from a state notorious for calling out jockeys and trainers in this department, he must wince at how weak we are by comparison. Look at Hong Kong; they are red hot on integrity and employ 240 people to look after a programme that races 6 days a month.
We’ve got a handful of poeple. They take holidays don’t they? Can they cope with 7 day, 5 night programme servicing 1464 fixtures? Not for a second. Without Betfair tipping the wink to them from time to time, they couldn’t turn over an egg. Staffing levels are so poor with budgets cut so it’s an impossible task.
On arrival in the UK Paul Bittar said in an interview, ‘If you have low funded Racing, you will have a problem with the integrity.’ That’s an entirely accurate statement. So what’s he done about it? In the recent round of negotiations first with Betfair and then with the bookmakers, did he argue on behalf of the sport for a substantial increase in funding to support the fixture levels they demand? Is that not part and parcel of the deal?
Let me throw at you a few names: Plantetoid, Khewatim, Brown Pete, Am I Blue. All horses with similar profiles, exceptionally poor performances in lead up races, heavily gambled upon, but with historical form that suggested they were well capable of winning the races. Check the reports into enquiries at the BHA and see if any of these horses are named. Was there an enquiry? What did it turn up? Or was it all just a big happy surprise? Customer confidence demands the regulator takes measured steps to ensure any unusual gambles are fully investigated to ensure all is tickety boo. Sky News seem more interested than the BHA in Am I Blue. It was referred to High Holborn, then quietly dropped. Was the backbone knocked out of the regulators with their failures over the Top Cees case?
Jockey changes, withdrawing horses, horses drifting substantially, shoring up morning odds on Betfair with amounts as low as £51 have all been part and parcel of such gambles. Horses laid in running as the tapes go up at far greater odds than their SP. Isn’t the BHA failing in not investigating any strange movements in the market? We need far more draconian rules and most certainly no recourse to the Courts to second guess decisions. If you run them under our rules, accept them warts and all.
I recognise many of the problems outlined above were in place well before the arrival of the World’s Greatest Australian. Fixture levels for example have remained a constant since 2003. The major independants whose business focus on Racing, have so far been excluded from any discussion on fixtures, planning or Levy. It’s all about the casino operators. I’m uncomfortable with getting into bed with large organisations if the result in so doing is to sell the whole product well short of its value. Signing for a record low level isn’t laudable, it’s a sell out.
Bittar, contrary to popular folklore, strikes me as being like having a Scottish Chancellor. Everyone thinks its refreshing.
I’m not impressed. You make up your own mind.
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.
No question about it. The old man wouldn’t understand the metamorphosis in betting in this country. And the victim is very much the long suffering horseracing bettor. Of course by this country I include Gibraltar – the puppet state the Government bizarrely supports to the fiscal benefit of our highest grossing companies. The word is ‘avoid’ not ‘evade’ of course. It’s legal folks. At least until we find politicians who buy their own lunches and look beyond their own term. Not many times in life I find myself in agreement with Bruce Millington of the Racing Post. An Editor obsessed with overrounds in the 9.00 at Kempton whilst running betting apps often running to 2% a runner. But he’s right in one area; punters in many respects are treated in a shabby fashion these days. I was in Cheltenham this week, filming a piece for JPFestival.com on the upcoming season (you can watch it here – Current State of Betting Markets). Two of the locals told me the Coral shop locally was restricting all bets to £20. Now, I want to say up front I don’t believe this to be true for one second. It’s far more likely that for certain customers, markets or times there may be restrictions in place. Stories like this though pervade the industry like a cancer. However, most LBO managers these days do spend more time ringing through anything exceeding liabilities of £100 than they do actually accepting the bets. But the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) roll on without limits. I’m going to be as kind as possible here to the modern day ‘Giants’ of Betting. For firms comfortable with a £100 spin on a machine, it’s truly pathetic if you’re holding those same customers to a £20 bet on the horses – or less. Don’t you see their point of view? A trader gave me some stick this week, he is or had associations with Bet365 recently, so you’d think he’d have known better. Anyway, he placed a wager his own firm was unlikely to even consider to serious money to a horse race trader from a rival firm, given the likelihood the selection was ‘live’. He then whined publicly about how he had been ‘restricted’ by my firm. Now, let’s not let the facts ruin a good story and note these are already in the public domain because he tweeted them. The bet would have returned £3600, if laid at the very best odds available. I don’t lay a bet you see. I don’t mind anyone tweeting their disapproval, but a trader for Bet365? Well that takes the biscuit! Winning and losing isn’t important to me, but I do demand a fair ‘spread’ of business from a customer. In other words I wouldn’t entertain a client who’d wait like a spider for us to be substantially out of line before proffering a bet. Evidently this trader had ‘marks’ in his office as to his pick and couldn’t get on elsewhere, or we would have been left in peace. Obviously we will lay bets we don’t always fancy accommodating, but that’s the nature of the betting business. It’s not my policy to discuss my client’s business- ever. But you’ll understand I will respond to criticism unfairly levelled in open forums. Expect it if your house is made of glass. Having placed his wager he tweeted my website as ‘unfit for purpose’ and that I wasn’t ‘the bookie I claimed to be.’ Of course the Bet365 website was so much better than mine. Fine, I can accept that, except to say my own website lays a very fair bet at all times. The same isn’t necessarily true of Bet365’s. For example on the same event and selection, we could manage to get on more than £3.75 to win. Hmmm. Apparently my website works for placing wagers, it’s the roulette that doesn’t work properly. Anyway I’ve dealt with his barb. Bottom line is choice. That’s precisely why people bet with me and I don’t go to bed wishing I were Denise, and she won’t be worried about me. I lay a fair bet, or rid myself of someone who doesn’t offer me that – win or lose. That was the ethos of my father John Banks and that will remain my policy till I push up daisies. You see, all I hear and read about are restrictions from customers these days. Fine if we’re talking about professional traders or those working a business through exchanges; I’ve no issue with closures. Step on my toes and I’ll put on the jack boots. But I do have a serious beef with restrictions. I have been as forthright in that opinion as I have about modern day traders themselves. Do Bet365 lay decent wagers? Of course they do. But the complaints from those who feel unhappy at ridiculous counter offers simply undermine the good. What’s the point if you’ve determined someone is no good in allowing them to make a meal out of you online? Even if you’re a fair layer, the odd derisory offer paints a false picture of you’re worth. Now lads, let’s all get on the same page here. If you work for a company comfortable with offering derisory bets, or anything remotely similar, then you have to work to change that policy or the odds you’re offering that force it. Instead of attempting to compete with the tenners on an Exchange for such weak markets as the 3.55 at Clonmel, price every book up to say a minimum of 2% per runner and offer the customers a better service; a bet commensurate with their average stakes. But bets to £10 or less? Oh, come on, you’re making a spectacle of yourself. And as for moaning at me for accommodating you to a more than reasonable bet? Well put up or bet elsewhere. No? Of course the industry is governed by marketeers. The more names and email addresses they gather the better it sits on their CVs. Add 10,000 new clients to your books and executives should be happy. Although the big five operators are all registering profits in the hundred million range; their net margin as a proportion of their turnover appears dangerously low. And both Ladbrokes and Hills have announced recent significant profit dips. To be fair, there’s less complaints about what Ladbrokes and Hills lay, as to their rivals. I’m a little surprised to read occasional complaints about BetVictor. Spending too much on quality telly ads over there? To those executives staring with rose tinted specs at their marketing departments I offer you caution. In the world of the internet you can order a competitively priced pizza and have it delivered to your door. If they invented a cyber doll on the internet, sex would go out the window in a week. Betting is flooded with offers from hundreds of firms; not least my own. For our part we discount our clients payments. Does it therefore follow that if you found custom through money back offers and being that type of customer you would simply migrate to other companies when the bookmaker’s bottom line is constantly taking hits and the offers cease? Experience proves market share wars end up with victims on both sides of the coin. Middle pin companies and smaller go to the wall and become part of larger organisations. Customers suffer a worse standard of service as a consequence because smaller firms tailor their service. I make no bones about the expression ‘The Ryanair School Of Bookmaking’ because that’s the modern day thinking – ‘punters get the top of the market – don’t complain if we only lay you a tenner’. That’s not good enough for me. It’s not customer focussed. That’s the volume edict. You know what happens with short-sighted policies? Your clients become disaffected, even hateful of your policies. Why should a man who bets in fifties accept or begin to understand why you offer him £5? Yet he can have a spin for £100. When a Betfair comes along, and you’re part of that Wxchange by playing at bookie; you almost feel a sense of achievement. Fine; you’ll do your bollocks laying anything on the machine as you have to exceed Bookie prices, but that’s not my problem. If you’re comfortable operating a high tech, high volume website and offering £3 bets from time to time all well and good. But bear in mind that alienates traditional bettors. Many of whom have simply struck a winning run, as is common in gambling, and inexplicably find some Herbert whose spotted two winning wagers in a row and dropped them to a silly restriction without due cause. Ensure you only lay the ‘mugs’. Disrespectful and narrow. Now I give as good as I get. I expect to be ribbed from time to time. I’m not short on opinions on or off course. When you work for a casino operator, you’re bound to defend policy, even if privately you think some of the companies’ offers are a joke. I don’t doubt the individual I’ve engaged head on agrees their own firm’s restrictions are occasionally difficult to defend. They’re certainly not based at me laying them bets to lose 3 or 4 grand at a pop. To my mind, if you allow a customer on the one hand to sit on your fruit machine or play roulette, maxing out his cards, and do his brains on either, you leave an open goal when you offer a bet of £3. You can read more on Geoff’s views on horserace betting in Trouble getting a bet on the horses?
Orfevre, Treve, Toronado, Camelot, Novelist, Declaration Of War, Intello, Moonlight Cloud, Sole Power, Sky Lantern, The Fugue. Germany, Australia, Japan, most of the O’ Brien and Hannon yards. None of the above chose British Champions Day (BCD). Now if you’re sitting there saying ‘well this reason and that’ – you’re not on the same page. Move straight to Holborn and collect £200. What we did get – Dawn Approach, Cirrus Des Aigles, Estimate and Talent. Speaking with my Bookie’s hat on, these were the bankers for the bettors at Ascot. With the exception of Estimate and Farhh both of whom had been out for months, it was a confident Morning Line for me. The bankers were readily opposable. In the case of Cirrus and Dawn, it’s fair to say their form for most of the year was nothing short of miserable, yet they found themselves at the head of the markets. The cream of the current French Crop could and would have beaten them senseless- as has been proved the case in races like Le Marois. (Olympic Glory held that form up in outstanding style, and for me was the best performer of the crop on BCD). So, once again speaking with my Trilby and Shades on, these Bankers were considerably under-bet. Cirrus and Dawn were notably weak and whilst I was prepared to stand both for lumps, it proved impossible to field adequate sums at the prices I was forced to offer and ended up actually losing with Farhh and Olympic Glory. The point I’m making isn’t what I won or lost, I mean who cares if I lose? I’m guessing most Bookies won yesterday, but not perhaps as much as the casual bettor would imagine. But if our Championship Finale is made up of so many notable absentees, suspect favourites– not to mention every potential fast ground performer out there – it’s clear to me we will end up with a product which caters only for soft ground specialists or second tier performers, in comparison to the Arc for example. Nor can it compete with a 4 Million Euro Arc in late October. Let’s get something out of the way. I’m thoroughly in favour of the idea, and I absolutely enjoyed yesterday. Ascot is the perfect venue and it was right for JCR to concede the point and support the move. We did get a stirring finish to the Champion Stakes. We do need a seasons ‘end’ bash. It’s excellent for turnover and betting – the engine of the sport. I get the impression some members of the Establishment view betting as somewhat ‘dirty’, but the roots of the sport originated more in betting than breeding. The securing of Sponsorship from Quipco for the series has been a major achievement. And we should take very great pride in that. A few negative points to consider. The crowd was well down on the previous year, and struggled to reach a level commensurate with the occasion. No Frankel or Excelebration .Equally no Treve, Moonlight Cloud or The Fugue. Two similar races in the QE2 and Champions on the same card, and an oddly sited apprentice race. Predictably it rained and we suffered several notable withdrawals in the lead up to BCD, and every horse who contested the Arc card was beaten. What effect will that have on future entries? I foresee a clear choice, Arc Weekend or BCD – and not both for the many superstars critical to the day. As to the ground yesterday – described as soft. It was actually ‘bottomless’ in places according to William Buick, heavy said Hughes and led to the first race (despite Championship status) being over 15 seconds slower than standard. Indeed, every race was significantly slower than the ground report suggested it would be. Champions Day on jumping ground? Don’t be silly guys. I’ve been critical of the BHA and in particular Great British Racing on the subject and I want to put this in context. I’ve said openly the broad idea is a good one. However, in my opinion the day needs major tweaking if it’s not to remain the sub-card to Longchamp or the Breeders Cup. Supporters of BCD have been critical of the Breeders Cup. I’m not sure where they’re getting their material from, because year on year it’s been supported by some of the best horses on the planet. What I do find as distasteful; the BHA’s consistent failure to properly engage with the racing public on the positioning of the day and other weighty subjects to boot. Ask a question of the BHA – expect it to be ignored. Evidently the cushiest job in Racing is PR for the BHA – referring only to carefully worded press releases in his missives. There’s no discussion of decisions, nor the reasoning behind them. ‘I know nothing – Nooothing.’ Fine, if we’re talking about integrity, there’s perhaps an argument to keep matters ‘in house.’ However for issues such as British Champions Day, we’re met with silence. It’s almost as if ‘we’ve made our decision, it has to be right, you don’t understand, belt up.’ I find the whole manner in which the organisation engages with the race-going public, and its press, arrogant beyond belief. Has the arrival of the Australian lent itself to a mild easing of the wall of silence? Or is the ‘Godolphin-Sungate-Egan’ merely proof nothing’s actually changed here except the face? It’s time to stop acting like a secret society. We don’t all have to agree, but we should engage. There’s far too many entrenched views in the organisation. Committees are formed of like-minded folk with the same well-meaning individuals involved in differing quangos. I’ve seen it in public cchool boys clubs everywhere – it’s got that same whiff of Establishment. It’s time to move away from such a culture and employ people whose views offer a broader spectrum. Such failures at the head of the industry aren’t assisted by a super pliant Racing Post editorial. That’s left to the Guardian and the Independent. Why? Whilst we’re on the subject of the British Horseracing Authority, why is it the case the organisation lacks even one single betting expert on its payroll? So many decisions the Authority undertakes are affected by, or affect the betting ‘cake.’ The only examples you’ll find is at the Levy Board’s once a year Bookmakers Committee. Made up of the 5 biggest stakeholders in betting; Hills, Ladbrokes, Corals, Betfair and Bet 365 – cCasino operators. I can only deduce that the reasons for so many decisions at number 75, made without input from those thoroughly versed with betting and its importance, is down to pure snobbishness. I stand to be corrected of course. Policemen they have, betting men they do not. Neither the Chairman, not the Chief Executive are grounded in the black arts, best make sure before you embark on any project that you understand fully the effect on the sport’s finances and employ some folk who do. There’s a solution to BCD. It involves upsetting the French and the Irish, and the loss of lunch at La Grand Cascade. The Irish have shown they won’t be hostage to the age old Pattern. And why shouldn’t the most powerful racing nation do so also or is that not British? France is famous for bucking the rule book in so many regards. Let’s ignore their sensibilities and move British Champions Day back a month to Ascot’s September slot. Further leave the QE2 to Ascot’s October, as it devalues the Champion Stakes. It’s not cricket is it? De l’autre part- it’s just business – and good business. Give ourselves the best track, ground and by the way poach a few fast ground specialists from the French. Allez.. We simply cannot compete with the prize fund offered by the Arc, but we can compete on the quality of our racetrack. October ground issues in Paris and just getting our heads in front in the calendar. To boot, we may deal with possibility that those who took their chance at Ascot yesterday, who also participated at Longchamp, simply will not attend next year. We please Quipco with better fields. Better horses equals more prestige, attendance, network coverage, sponsorship deals. Last but by no means least, a horse participating on British Champions Day will make the Breeders Cup. Something people seem to forget. Bonus. One other associated point. Future Champions Day. I very much understand the very excellent Jockey Club racecourses trying to preserve something that is distinctly Rowley. But a Friday bash the day before Ascot is simply unworkable. Nobody would drive 20 miles by choice to get to Newmarket on a Friday, worse the dismal trip home. Anyone going to Ascot on the morrow would need a helicopter – pure and simple. It’s a decision I would revisit. Fine – I don’t run racetracks, but I’m as certain as Veuve is my tipple that the loss in attendance, and by extension sponsors, will seal the fate of the meeting. Go the whole hog and move it to Ascot or tie it into the Cesarewitch. I know not to criticise the Bazel, it would have been his brain child to move BCD from a track I know he loves to Ascot, but there’s not enough petrol in the world to get most of us to Rowley for a Friday bash. Here I sit, 9 hours after Lord Street’s show, listening to the thunder outside my house. The roads are full of deep washes, cars can barely pass. Bath is abandoned. Ascot simply would not be racing 24 hours later. Last year there was doubt over the participation of the great Frankel– even the event itself was in some doubt right up until 10.30am on the morning of Champions Day. Is this really something we should leave to chance? And do we really want to be slotted in between the mighty Arc and Breeders Cup cards, or do we just show them our rear end?
Not easy getting a bet on horses these days. You hear it everywhere. Forums, papers even telly. Bookmakers roundly criticised for offering inflated odds on horses, then laying them to derisory amounts. It rather sticks in my throat to be in any way associated to such behaviour. I mean I came from a father who epitomised fearless in laying – often standing in the back lines at tracks he would dominate the far more cautious firms at the front. I took over that business some 20 years ago now, and I’ve tried to distance myself from restrictions and £10 bets. But this isn’t about me. Is the criticism levelled at modern day bookies justified? If you’ll indulge, I shall try to put this difficult subject into context. Bear in mind there are broadly 3 different arms of the industry involved here. Exchanges, large bookmaking ‘chains’, and independents. One of the things that strikes me about the complaints is they’re rarely levelled at exchanges. To my mind they’ve always been the smart ones. By investing heavily in marketing and advertising, you sanitise your product from some of the more important critics, such as journalists. Don’t bite the hand that feeds, even if it lives under a rock. Yet they often claim the moral high ground. Good job there lads. You see, the deal with exchanges is simple. First off most punters are small, and don’t wager more than £20 in a bet. Second, it’s accepted you can’t get a place bet on the same. I don’t see an exchange offering an each way bet. Third, not easy to blame the exchange for what is often pitiful liquidity levels, when you’re supposed to pony up and add to the ‘lays column’ is it? That aside, the effect of exchanges on British Racing margins cannot be overstated. Obscenely they govern the on course bookmakers, many of whom have turned into arbers, playing exchange odds off against what punters will take. Low liquidity is ridiculously easy to manipulate. If you’re trying to get 10 – 20 thousand or more on a horse, simply feed in a relative low amount into the lay side and watch it drift as bots and the ill-informed react. Alternatively, pick a random ‘gambling stables’ no hope 33/1 chance, pop a grand or two on it and watch it collapse to 9/2. In the meantime, you’re favoured selection drift from evens to 2/1. Your 20 grand profit becomes 40, for an investment of 1. It’s a childishly simple example. Surely it’s not that easy you say? Oh but it is. Plus if you have the second in the market ‘squared away’, in knowledge or integrity terms, you’re flying. It’s not just the track which obeys the pennies on exchanges these days. It’s the off track ‘odds compilers’ at the large bookmaking chains. And here’s their sub plot. Go onto LinkedIn, type in ‘Corals’ or ‘William Hill’ and you’ll be met by picture after picture of guys in their 20’s – fresh faced out of school, describing themselves as ‘traders’ or ‘odds compilers’. It’s a grand term, or used to be. In my time, such individuals would spend years working hefty on course markets, working figures and percentages. Or perhaps work their way into the trading room after due time in the trenches answering phones. But in an environment which puts so much stock in exchange movements, all these spotties really do these days is monitor the price movements on their screens and shave their odds appropriately. Same as most racecourse clerks do. Neither group are particularly skilled. I accept some may have an inflated view of their abilities. That comes with youth. In this game, experience counts for everything and they bring little of that to the table. Policies such as these have led to large concerns being assaulted by a new two new breeds of punter. Arbers – very much the same as many track bookies, and those putting ‘job’ monies on for the connected. Both groups, in a world of odds which are more often than not both unrealistic and manipulated, are extremely difficult to beat. As a consequence they’re restricted. By extension this has a knock on effect for the less ‘professional punter’. An accident of circumstances I suppose. Similarly if you spend your time following certain tipping lines, backing shorteners, betting mainly on the inflated morning odds markets, backing each way when the favourite is odds on or happening to back the same selections as per say Patrick Veitch, you’ll find your half-life as a punter with such firms shortened dramatically, along with what you can get on. It’s also important to understand the world of Ralph Topping. In his time, boardmarker to boss, he’s witnessed William Hill turn from a traditional bookmaker to a casino operator. This is a key point. Let’s call a spade a spade here – were I king Ralph, as things stand, I’d do exactly the same as he’s doing. You see the oil in the machine is precisely that. The machines. Large chains have engorged themselves on legislation permitting them to site shops anywhere and that growth remains unchecked. Witness the recent case in London against Paddy Power, brought by a Newham Council who argued they had piles of shops already in the region and that the shops were merely a vehicle for their Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. FOBTs. The case was quashed on the grounds there’s no law against serial proliferation of betting shops. Let me be honest here, Newham was right in my opinion. They didn’t need the shop, nor its machines. This situation is true in many of our towns. But Paddy won the day, arguing they made a ‘positive contribution to High Streets’. Of course that’s nonsensical hyperbole. Essentially though Newham hadn’t proved their argument and were kicked out. Each FOBT generates a gross profit of circa £900 a week for such firms – and they can have 4 in every shop. That’s £3600 in gross profit a week. Add in a ‘manager’ who gives out the change, a cashier, and a rolling ‘relief manager’ and you’ve a very low staff cost, maintenance and risk business. Providing that is you don’t get too involved in the poor margin horse racing product. This is where leaders such as Paul Bittar are so blinkered in their view that more racing equals more levy. A childishly simple claim, and one with no data to support it. The reality is quite the opposite. A punter has a fixed amount to spend. More racing won’t make him draw out more money. The machines claw for his cash, and they’re clearly addictive. When the racing is competitive, it becomes the draw.If it’s low grade 5 runner races on offer, they become the background rather than the vehicle that pulls people into the shop to start with. The BHA is far too tight in with the bookmaking-exchange fraternity to be healthy. Ostriches see a little more. Am I a little unfair to the new Chief Exec? I don’t believe so. Within a month of his arrival he had thrown his hat into the ring with big business and declared 1450 as the right ‘level’ for Racing. Was that an informed decision based on hard data he hadn’t been provided with by the way, or just towing the establishment line? I’ll let you decide on that one. There isn’t a third option, except for the PR merchants from the chains. I haven’t mentioned the casino side of most modern day bookmaker or exchange businesses. These super profitable products yield enormous profits. Why focus your attention on the 4.05 at Plumpton and the risks involved, when you can push your customers to bet on the areas of your business you absolutely know represent a no-lose situation. To boot there’s been a substantial market share war going on between the large concerns over the last 3 years. It’s routine for the morning price market for a feature race on a Saturday to be actually overbroke between the majors. The King George at Ascot ran to 89% at best odds available. This represents a net loss to racing of 11% in real terms. Will such top of the market offers make it more likely you’ll get your £100 each way wager? Evidently not. Of course the whole margin debate is pretty much a nonsense these days, except perhaps for Bruce Millington who majors on the 9.30 at Wolverhampton. So many horses effectively priced out of events; we never saw horses going off at 400/1 in the sixties and seventies. One of the major issues affecting the laying of bets is the integrity of the sport. The bottom line is, the lower the prize fund available, the more likely the integrity of the event will be affected. The great scandals in racing of late can be directly attributed to serial failures at the BHA who should insist on a strong, well-funded and staffed integrity division. In fact in a period where there’s more racing than ever before, the integrity division at the BHA has had its budgets slashed. Being kind it’s poor management, but I lean towards a dereliction of their responsibilities to police the sport. The key phrase ‘shut the stable door after the horse has bolted’ wouldn’t be out of place here. All the spin in the world from Mr Bittar cannot hide the fact it’s grossly understaffed and most certainly lacking in the experience necessary to break down the vital betting markets. In fact, in a bizarre twist of fate, it’s Betfair who highlight most of the scandals perpetrated on its own exchange, but then only when amounts are excessive. Hong Kong has 238 people tasked with maintaining the integrity of its programme, which races 6 days a month. Here with 1450 fixtures we have less than 20 including those running around testing horses and the like. The numbers don’t stack up. It’s time to get proper with integrity, and not just when Channel 4 ask the questions on doping. Non-triers and ‘explosive last to first’ gambles have become the accepted norm. Why? How does it affect your punting dollar? Will it be easier or fairer to bet when people in the industry don’t trust the ‘lesser’ events? One smaller factor to consider is the time delay. On course traders react swiftly to volatile exchanges in proffering odds. However, the actual shows fed into betting shops will reflect those movements by anything between 1-2 minutes later, and may be made up by some trader betting to a sixth of the odds on the place book. This creates a clear arbing situation of betting shows vs exchange odds. Don’t forget the modern day punter is armed with super fast broadband links to exchanges – they know the reality and can gain significant advantage over the bookmaker in the High Street. How do these points relate to how much you can get on? Well you have to understand what you’re betting on; racing is up against the other products a bookie is offering. Sure if you do your nuts you can call your own tune with any bookie. That’s obvious. But if they don’t know you – and you just have a lucky run? Well I’m afraid the outlook is dim. Let’s encapsulate racing in this simple equation: Exchange – On Course Traders – Delayed shows to LBO’s + Glut of Racing = Low margin out of date product open to serial manipulation v Fixed Odds Betting Terminals and casino products. The last cog in the wheel are the independents. They’re either shop based, or running telephone and internet operations such as my own at geoff-banks.com. Many do not possess the vital casino products, nor are they able to operate relief manager situations to rotate their staffing and keep costs down. They shoulder increased share of costs such as taxation and Gambling Commission fees and they’re competing with offshore low cost firms to boot. Smaller firms tend to rely much more heavily on their racing product. As a result they’re struggling to remain competitive with set down by firms who are reluctant to lay much more than an egg at those paper odds. Does it really matter if they survive, any more than does it matter if the on course market does? I’ve heard the argument for natural selection in business. And I fundamentally disagree. In my view, it’s an unhealthy situation. Big business is getting bigger, they’re paying less taxes than small business and most certainly giving a vastly inferior standard of service. Who hasn’t sat on a phone line to speak to a world weary operator with little training or the ability affect change to improve the lot of the customer they are serving? Decisions are made at boardroom level by ‘executives’ who won’t have to sit waiting to be served by the individuals they employ. They’re in no way into ‘customer facing’ or ‘customer focussed’ initiatives. They’re about money. The internet has most certainly improved many areas of our lives. But unchecked it spells the death knell for many businesses we used to take for granted which are the very fabric of the decent society we grew up in. I’m one of life’s survivors – I lay a fair bet. My boys answer a call within two rings, or answer a textbet within a minute. But businesses like my own are in the minority. The bottom line is: the larger the firm, the worse its service standards. But they’re cheap. They offer deals and money back offers and price guarantees. If you want real change in the service you receive, including how much you get on – you have to accept such standards involve you being prepared to take slightly less in return for a more civil way to bet. It’s a choice. Want an exchange price? Accept it’s only going to be to their stakes. Not a lot these days. Ryanair aren’t British Airways, and they treat their customers with a disdain that’s breathtaking. But they’re cheap. They lead on low cost travel without frills or service standards or conduct codes respected by rivals. So are Paddy Power, Bet365 and William Hill. If you believe in SP guarantees, money back if your horse falls and so forth, all well and good and they will happily accommodate you to lower stakes. It’s simple, you cannot offer the top of everyone’s market and lay whoppers. So bet away with the offshores but expect to pay for it elsewhere.
My last blog about modern day racing, and its sanitized ways, seemed to attract a lot of attention or hits as they say. And more than a few compliments from like-minded souls, or perhaps concerned, individuals on Twitter. It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am…in future my rate for such scribing shall be ten pounds an article, and I’m not budging from that. What was absent was the contra view which I expected from trainers and connections of horses boxed away in padded cells for months on end awaiting their glory moment. Shame that. However, all is not lost. I did receive one rather hateful response from a fellah describing himself rather grandly as ‘a proper Bookmaker’ who ranted about my attitudes to modern day betting rings. He wasn’t quite brave enough to tell us all who he was, doubtless of the view should he reveal his true identity, some would have realised the true worth of his business practices. Few punters thoroughly approve of modern day Bookmakers. The horrible truth. Exchanges are the ‘good guys’ wherever they trade from. Who’s going to criticise someone for low liquidity when you’re part of the problem? It’s perhaps helpful if I illustrate the problems as I see it in the modern ring, for those who do not understand the issues. Anyone who goes racing, midweek in particular, can’t have failed to notice the distressed state of the ring. A handful of Bookies, usually with just one member of staff each, huddling for warmth whilst serving but a few customers. In an environment where racetracks claim attendances overall are holding up, it’s a paradox that rings are so quiet. Of course, were I the RCA, I’d be talking up the product. And yes, if they don’t address the problem of stable stars retiring as 3 year olds or worse sitting out for Cheltenham, they’re going to have attendance issues; we’re agreed on that. On a Saturday, and at the major meetings however, the crowds still look good to me, but the public aren’t betting as they used to. Or perhaps they are. I mean who goes racing these days and doesn’t have a bet? Racing’s pretty dull if you don’t have some kind of interest other than an anoraky view of form or breeding. Why does the Queen have so many ladies in waiting when she’s in attendance? Quite right, they’re running her bets out! She’s no fool. Loves a Union Jack does the Boss. Everyone’s having a play in reality. Because if you’re racing, and not betting, you must be wondering what all the fuss and noise is about! As to the Punters, they’re just getting bored. 98% of Bookies these days have turned to trading as a simple and cheap method of making a living. From the moment the interminably ignorant Rob Hughes, of the then controlling Levy Board, cast his vote in favour of opening up the Ring to outside influences, in particular exchanges, the die was cast for the Bookies. Led by ‘pioneers’ like Martyn of Leicester, who I recall describing it as the new Holy Grail to me one day, many leapt from odds, percentages and margins, to trading every dollar they took with an exchange, at better odds. Presto, easy money – minimal risk. At the outset the gap between the odds offered by the trader and the exchange was wide, and the method simple. It was a golden time. As the years progressed, with traders chasing a diminishing pound, and their own silly greed for every bet available, the odds soared to the punters. Traders found with what profits could be engendered, squeezed so tight, they couldn’t breathe. Even when the crowds were good, they moronically bet so tight to the exchange, the profits, if at all, were derisory. In the same period, liquidity on exchanges fell markedly. Now we had a situation where traders would offer 7/1 about a horse trading at 8.2 on the exchange but only to £20. Lord-A-Mighty if someone asked for a couple of hundred each way – a bet far larger than they could stand, trade or even dump with the few proper Bookmakers betting to opinions. Casually they knocked the larger punters back, without thought for their future. They turned to following the exchange win price, but restricting the place returns, making something off of that book instead. Tossing casually away years of agreements and the code laid down by Tattersalls. This code has, and still is, respected in betting shops and credit offices and even improved upon. They laid off staff, and finally stopped going in some cases, altogether. So when ‘a proper Bookmaker’ tells me I shouldn’t be going about criticising their business plan, I have to laugh. Proof of the pudding is in the eating. It gives me little pleasure to be proven totally right. I said this operandi would fail on every platform available to me, to whoever would listen and many who would not. If there’s no work – you’ve failed. I’ve covered the traders, what about the views of my customers? First off, make no mistake, I like a laugh with my punters, especially when they lose – but I don’t mind the jibes when I do either! It’s part of the fun of betting with the old enemy. Because I am, the old enemy in all but age… I still offer odds which reflect my views and I don’t knockback bets from genuine punters, ever. Why aren’t the punters flocking to a ring where they can very often beat an exchange price and pay no commission? Because my friends, like me, they’re so famously bored of a ring with rows of Bookmakers betting like soldiers – all offering the same odds. There’s no variety or choice. It’s uniform and drab. Worse it’s an exchange driven cartel. Most punters believe the Bookmakers win, whatever the result. If everyone has the same price it appears like price fixing. They disapprove of restrictive practices such as 1/5th odds on the Grand National, and traders who dress as if they’ve just stepped out of their front rooms. And worse, they just want the fun of a bet. It really matters little to them whether a horse is 5/1 or 4/1 when the nags are toiling up the straight. One of the loudest punters in the ring I love, little Tommy, makes the most noise. He doesn’t bet big, but to him it’s still the buzz, and I love him for his enthusiasm. These days, customers are afforded little of the respect of past days, when giants like John Banks and Stephen Little battled them with a smile, a thumping bet at their odds, and a tie. I offer two thoughts for punters at this stage, out of balance. If you moan about poor place odds and you give those traders who offer them your fiver each way at 1/5 the odds on the Cambridgeshire because they are 17/2 about something which is 8/1 elsewhere, then you’ve only yourselves to blame for supporting them, in any race. I believe you should identify the culprits and never bet with them; period. That’s how you rid the ring of scoundrels without the business acumen to appreciate exchanges aren’t the savior, but their death knell. Oh, and tell your friends. Second, although I enjoyed the banter from Big Mac, even if it occasionally made no sense, the culture of moreism always has a price; go for service over value, every time. Think I fly Ryanair if British Airways head in the same direction? Fine, I’ve given my thoughts. What of the future? For those leading Bookmakers these days, and for the empty vessels in the ring, standing looking at the tumbleweed, bitching away, and blaming everyone but themselves for the problems, I offer these solutions. Number one; allow the racetracks to dictate the terms of business in the rings. Fundamentally to restore order on place markets, introduce a guaranteed minimum lay to lose amount for each ring. This stops traders betting to pennies, offering unsustainable odds, and knocking back the larger punters. It’s so tiresome to hear dinosaurs claim tracks ‘shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the terms of business’. What a narrow view, especially as even now, they already do! It’s hardly in the favour of racetracks to do away with the draw of their betting rings, is it? Chesterbet is a success, but only in parallel with Bookmakers bringing the punters to play into the track in the first place. On their own, and without a ring, tracks – whilst they can deliver on the bet at more restrictive odds – can’t deliver on the flavour and atmosphere people in this country enjoy about the ring so much. Think that Simon Bazalgette and Charles Barnett are rubbing their hands with a go it alone approach? They’re no fools. They would prefer a symbiotic relationship. Every time we say no to their requests for improved service standards, they become just a little more unsympathetic to our problems. They will naturally turn their vast expertise in running business, into taking betting under their wings and employing people like me to show them how it’s done successfully. And yes, I would, if the alternative is to stand amongst a bunch of fiddlers trading dollars in their jeans. Number two, for racetrack bosses. Extinguish the cosy little relationship between RDT and Betdaq, with software capable of skillfully enabling traders to hive off bets at lightning speed to the exchange. Do away with track broadband and WiFi altogether. Outlaw data cards, secondary laptops and hand held PDAs for Bookmakers. No, it’s not air tight, but it does go an awful long way to restricting the ability to trade with exchanges. Especially at festival meetings where mobile phone networks like Vodafone do a total runner. Fundamentally, switch off the exchange displays on laptops provided by companies such as RDT and return rings to a lower tech environment. Give serious pause for what I’m advocating if you value a vibrant ring, its draw and income. Stop worrying about losing a few traders who do not approve of restrictions. Believe me, they’re no loss! En fin, if you’re showing exchange odds on a big screen at your Racetrack, you’re doing yourselves no favours. It isn’t about price. Number three Bookies, get into the modern day age of cashless societies and find bank’s willing to offer the new fast generations of swipe debit cards to enable punters to bet without the need to queue for hours and days at cash points. I accept there will be a variety of views out there to this. If you’re a hard working Bookie, you have my respect for your efforts, but you’re going nowhere, if you don’t adapt, and you know this is true. If you’re the blinkered sort, who believes the Son of John Banks got here through luck rather than focusing on service standards, or if you’re worried someone else in the ring on a mobile will break the mould and have a huge mass of punters at his joint, whilst you have nothing, then you’re missed the point. It’s greed and an unworkable long term business plan that got you here in the first place. You have to work as a collective, rather than a series of individuals, and you have to act now and stop thinking of what’s good for you, but what’s best for the customers you’ve lost. The tracks have the power to lay down sensible practices, if you’d only let them. One thing’s absolutely for sure, the one you’re using right now has failed, miserably. I don’t think anyone could argue with that. For those that view some of the points as ‘legally challengeable’, I point you to the free for all 2008 Gambling Act. Good luck in Court trying to get a decision as to what is, or isn’t legal anymore, because the Gambling Commission certainly don’t. One final point, Bookies. Just a few years ago, many of these points were laid down by the NJPC articles. I don’t recall anyone at that time complaining, or challenging the terms. We can change, and we must, if the whole shebang doesn’t migrate to GoodwoodBet in a very short time.
Bankers. We used to count the banker material in the car with my Dad on the way down to Cheltenham. It was our benchmark to success at the meeting. And that was the word- success, because losing at the Festival was a non runner for Bookies such as John Banks. The environment has changed. I don’t use betting exchanges to price up my book, I value opinion over trading between Bots and the numpties. I’m very much in the minority. Modern day Bookmakers can’t see past exchanges, trading every penny they take, offering a very poor service to the customer, which starts with uniformity of odds. We have to thank Rob Hughes, casting vote chairman of the Levy Board for introducing exchanges to rings – now decimated. Bookies have become their own worst enemy. Me? I expect to win by taking the aggressive line. No, I didn’t offer ten pound bets on Sprinter Sacre at Evens, but then I’m not running a casino. I don’t study a yard of form pre-festival. It clouds my plans. If I sat up all night studying form, I’d surely end up with the same book of hotpots as the punters do. Dynaste, Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Bobs Worth and Simonsig. My job is to get them beat. Tuesday rolls in, starting well for the Books, with the hard pulling My Tent Or Yours looking assured for victory, outbattled by Champagne Fever. Last year we started poorly and never looked back. This year was more muddled. Wins for Simonsig, Hurricane Fly and Quevega placed the straight bat layers behind the 8 ball. We lost- solidly. The bright spot? Handicaps. Result after result all week penned the punters back.. Wednesday, gloomy lot of Bookies clutched defeat from the jaws of victory in the first, with Back In Front rallying. Groans and queues around the Centaur for payouts. I employ 3 people to just pay out the cash, which by nature is more time consuming than accepting a bet – it wasn’t enough! The office rang – running up bets onto Irish wonderhorse- Pont Alexandre in the next. This from multiple bets onto Back In Focus and yesterdays ‘heroes’. How much do we have it for I ask? ‘Don’t ask’, says my senior trader, we’re behind the sofa in here. Talking horse-not wonderhorse. And it kicks off panic with the punters. They barely scrape a return in another race for two days. Who cares about Sprinter Sacre? Not the Bookies-they ignore him. Ooh aaah, well done, move on. Round after round to the Bookies continued through Thursday. Had you asked me to write down my own set of results, I couldn’t have penned a better set of results. It was embarrassing, – well almost embarrassing. Thursday night we celebrated, care of the Richard Power firm in Cheltenham. Smiles all round and stories of derring do and how what looked on paper a punters festival, had turned so much to us. We were well in front. Friday. Hmmm. I remember thinking I would coast round, secure that even if the results were similar to Tuesday, we couldn’t finish behind on the meeting now. That’s not to say I intended backing off and hogging the pot. Oh No! not my way at all. I’m too daft to do that..Punters on the ropes and down. I was going to put my heel gently on their necks. Hard to remember a thought proven more wrong, as result after calamitous result ensued. The worst of which for me was Salsify in the Foxhunters. Backed in from 9/2 long term to 2/1. It was a catastrophe. It’s fair to say I was totally stunned at the manner of his victory. Iiterally speechless at the turn of events- and the noise in the Centaur was unbelievable! It didn’t surprise me to watch McCoy boot home the last favourite home. I was numb. The punters deserved their day. How much did the Festival cost the firms? Well, my firm lost double on Friday what it had reaped on Wednesday and Thursday. Those are traditionally quieter betting days. I’m not crying, I have a track record of winning long term. Overall, the Cheltenham bash cost the Bookies big time. More with the large offshore concerns, who outdid each other with one moronic offer after another. These days they seem to treat the whole event as an opportunity to pad their online products with lovely names and addresses. And the dimmies queue up to sign up as if it’s Christmas. Is that a fair comment? I believe so, because every tenner laid at evens on Sprintre Sacre usually gets ploughed into something else. I mean who deposits a tenner and goes through the rigmarole of withdrawing it the next day? It’s ploughed into some other product and Bobs your uncle. Whilst everyone from the BHA downward is clapping themselves on the back at producing another showcase event – and it was, I offer a word of caution. I listened to the great Micky Fitzgerald on the excellent Morning Line, a show I’ve been lucky to participate in, eulogising about his former boss producing the horse in tip top condition to wrest the big prize of the Gold Cup. And I congratulate my friend Nicky for his skills. However, the last time I saw the great Bobs in action was November. He wasn’t the only one of course. A number of top jumping stars rested from December onwards. Fine, the weather was poor in January, but there were still opportunities to be had, rejected by stable stars with owners rich enough to take the gamble and lie low for months. In the meantime viewers on telly, and worse attendees on course endured uncompetitive events and ‘match races’ for months. There have been 23 grade one events this season. 16 won by the favourite, and 6 by the second favourites. It highlights the predictable nature of jump racing these days, and hardly pads the Levy.It’s not good enough in my view. I don’t care who wins the Gold Cup, it’s a great institution, and whatever lifts the little cup, Dessie or Nortons Coin, is going to be big news. Micky Fitz was right to congratulate the great one, but he forgets the intervening months have become drab and boring. Might I remind those looking in- Desert Orchid ran 8 or 9 times a year. He was an athlete and so are today’s horses. It disproves the current lame excuse given for horses languishing in their boxes, that they’re not ‘capable’ of winning top races if they race in February. And if you’re Newbury or Kempton? You’re doing the industry no favours by permitting quiet gallops for top stars after racing. Ask Fontwell who provided 50 grand for a five runner race how they felt at the lack of ambition? Simonsig? Beatable. Dynaste beaten. Where was the inventiveness of connections then? Small fields for Championship races at the Festival? An alarming development for Racing. As for Quevega? Group class in a seller, just leaves me cold. There’s only one horse who cannot be bested these days. One. Let them race. By Geoff Banks