Whatever else emerges on racing’s political landscape next year, the racecourses’ new pool betting enterprise is going to be very high profile. In some ways it will mark the culmination of years of endeavour for the racing industry.
Many will recall how British racing once held strong ambitions to own the Tote and worked extremely hard to fulfil them. Sadly, those ambitions were thwarted but at least now we will see a major pool betting enterprise being controlled by British racecourses, if not by the entire racing industry.
Crucial within all this will be the creation of new types of pool bets and the levels at which the take-out from the pool is set from bet to bet
It is true the racecourse consortium, made up of 54 courses, will not have a pool betting monopoly but, as liquidity is the name of the game, it will be difficult for any other licence holder to match the potential of this consortium, even though, as things now stand, Ascot will sadly not be part of it.
Although the future of pool betting almost certainly lies with capturing a much bigger slice of the off-course betting market, building momentum on-course is a natural starting point. The racecourses have the advantage of people attending their meetings every day and many of these people are already comfortable with Tote betting. The numbers may be relatively small, but together they form a basis from which off-course initiatives can be developed.
Today’s computer technology provides enormous opportunities but the consortium must resist the temptation to run before it can walk. While the electronic world and pool betting are natural bedfellows, the first requirement in setting up the enterprise must be to ensure the new system works efficiently and accurately for the customer from day one.
The consortium does not have the luxury of working to a schedule of its own making. The current monopoly pool betting provider, Betfred, will probably be keen to end its commitment to racecourses as soon as possible and at that stage the new on-course service must have had all the bugs squeezed out of it.
Deadlines to fulfil the wider ambitions will be slightly less demanding. Having deals in place with major bookmakers, so popular pool bets like the Placepot can be sold through the betting shops, is an important part of the mix, as is the international picture where, through the co-mingling of pools, overseas punters can bet on British racing. No less important is the production of a website through which all the variations of pool bets must be made easily accessible to a betting public which, with its fixed odds mentality, will need a lot of enticement.
Crucial within all this will be the creation of new types of pool bets and the levels at which the take-out from the pool is set from bet to bet. While many on-course punters are, within reason, not that sensitive to betting ‘value’, a lot of people betting off-course, especially in significant amounts, are very value conscious.
Winning over a share of the sophisticated punter market will be one of the keys to long-term success for pool betting in this country. Not only must the high-staking sector of the market see evidence that pool betting can offer good value, but they must also be enticed by there being no limit to the size of stake they can place. At a time when bookmakers are increasingly miserly about limiting the size of punters’ bets, this makes a compelling case for pool betting, but only if there is sufficient liquidity in the pool.
As the new racecourse consortium starts to build its brand, it will be fascinating to see how things progress. For those with long memories it may not be seen as the perfect outcome, but, if it eventually delivers a new funding stream for racecourses, then it will be up to the horsemen to ensure prize-money deals are extended so that we all share in this success.