Hopes that pool betting would gain a proper foothold in this country were recently given a welcome boost with the news that Britbet and the Alizeti consortium are in discussions. This comes as we approach the time when Betfred’s pool betting monopoly comes to an end.
Britbet, which is made up of 55 racecourses, recently agreed a Standstill Arrangement with the Tote to explore opportunities for collaboration. Britbet certainly looks an exciting innovation, but, on its own, it would struggle to deliver a total package for pool betting without significant access to the off-course market. This access may now come via the Alizeti consortium.
Alizeti is a new company largely financed by owners and breeders. It completed the purchase of a 25% stake in Betfred’s Tote business in May, with an option to obtain the remaining 75% in the third year. The deal is said to be worth approximately £150m.
As liquidity of tote pools is the name of the game, we must hope that Britbet and the Alizeti/Betfred partnership start working very closely together to each one’s mutual benefit. Tote pools are small enough in the UK, without them being split by competing factions.
There is an obvious attraction for both companies to create some form of joint venture. Britbet will have most of the on-course pool betting market, while the Betfred/Alizeti consortium has access to the off-course market through betting shops. This comes as a result of Betfred having deals in place to sell pool bets in most shops through their Tote Direct subsidiary.
Whatever the new arrangement brings, it is unlikely to lead to all racecourses operating under the same pool betting banner. There was an assumption that Ascot would be doing their own thing, but it is encouraging to learn there are now fruitful discussions going on with Alizeti. Our flagship racecourse also plans a Hong Kong dimension where four days of the Royal Meeting will be simulcast.
Chester and Bangor will go it alone for the time being, continuing with their own on-course arrangements, while Chelmsford, owned by Betfred, will no doubt remain with that company’s existing Tote operation which Alizeti has now, of course, bought into.
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’, many off-course punters are very value-conscious.
Winning over a share of the sophisticated punter market could be one of the keys to 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 attracted by the size of stake they can place.
Although it is reassuring that both Britbet and Alizeti are making the right noises about their eventual contributions to racing, the reality is that winning over a much larger part of the horseracing betting market is surely a higher priority.
As this can only be achieved if punters are attracted by better dividends and better dividends can only be realised by reducing the take-out from the pools, it follows that contributions to racing must be a secondary objective.
Certainly, business on the racecourses and through betting shops are very important to this market in the short term, but the future is more likely to be dictated by sophisticated online marketing techniques and through links with overseas pools.
As this new era for pool betting begins to unfold, it will be fascinating to see if Britain’s traditional fixed odds punter can ever be sufficiently enticed away from the type of betting they have always preferred.
Achieving a significant increase in UK pool betting is going to be difficult but, now with the main players collaborating, we can approach this exciting new world with optimism.