One of the myths often perpetuated within this industry is that racecourses and owners are somehow at different ends of the racing spectrum and what is good for one is bad for the other.
Certainly, there will always be strong differences of opinion between those who provide the performers and those who put on the show, particularly on the subject of prize-money, but, overall, commercially healthy racecourses can only be good for owners.
We have recently been reminded of this relationship when Chester and Bangor decided they would replace the Tote betting outlets on their racecourses with an entirely new betting system over which they would exercise control. It is a brave and enterprising move, though only time will tell whether it also proves to be successful. If it does, then owners – those who provide the performers – should also benefit.
At the first Chester meeting at which their new chesterBET was in operation, the punter ended up getting a marginally worse deal than had they placed their bets at starting price or on the Tote. What is interesting about this is that it did not lead to wholesale rejection by on-course punters. It told us, not for the first time, that many people bet on horses without having the slightest idea whether the price they obtain for those bets represents the ‘value’ that we are constantly hearing about from those who take betting seriously.
The Chester punters could, after all, have deserted the new system in their droves, bet instead with the on-course bookmakers, or simply used their mobiles to bet online or on the phone. But they didn’t.
“The decision of Chester and Bangor to replace their Tote outlets is both brave and enterprising”
The truth is, of course, that punters look at betting from many different perspectives and most of those who are enjoying a fun day at the races are unlikely to be motivated by the same urge to obtain the best odds as the type of punter who sits at home placing bets on the exchanges.
Similarly, not all betting shop punters are hung up on value. Bookmakers are only too well aware that the biggest single factor that persuades regular punters to choose one betting shop in preference to another has little to do with whether they are offering 7-4 where their rivals might be giving 2-1. That single factor for most punters is quite simply the location of the shop.
It is perfectly reasonable that the Racing Post in particular is constantly exhorting its readers to seek value in their betting but, equally, it is a mistake to believe that the average racecourse punter is, within reason, going to be bothered about what John McCririck refers to as “the fractions”.
The beauty of the system now being used by Chester and Bangor is that they can be masters of their own destiny. They can choose the betting margins to which they wish to operate and, as time goes on, adjust them according to the volumes of betting. If their margins are too high, it will soon be reflected in a diminishing amount of business they attract.
All this will have been factored into the thinking of the Chester executive as they constructed their innovative and exciting plan. Here is a racecourse that attracts enormous summer crowds made up of people who are out to have a good time. Having a bet is an important part of the mix of their day’s enjoyment but it is by no means the only part. It is already clearly understood by Chester that key to the enterprise is making betting accessible, convenient and easy.
It may be that other racecourses will want to replicate Chester’s foray into the unknown, though few others command such impressive attendance figures. In any event, we should see this as something of a revolution on the British racecourse that could have far-reaching implications, not just for racecourses but for owners too.