ITV Racing- avoid stepping in the hyperbole

 

 

I worked for Channel 4. In said regard not only can it be said I’m biased, but also in fairness I experienced first hand what it takes to produce the quality Racing show. Working for Channel 4 doesn’t exclude me from the debate.

I have never subscribed to the view, expostulated by the likes of Fitzgerald of RMG, Bazelgette of JCR or Harman of the BHA that Racing’s ‘reach’ would improve under ITV. This was their ‘spin’ on achieving four million pounds more in fees than Channel 4 was prepared to offer. ITV convinced Racing that it’s impressive share of viewers would benefit the sport, indeed that argument was taken forward. Racing chiefs however should never have permitted Racing on a Channel with 1 percent audience share. ITV4.

 

Quite what the Racing Post’s angle was with their weekly shrieking at what they described as that network’s failures, I struggle to understand. But it’s all quiet there now.

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What’s often not understood is the fundamental difference between the two Channels. Whilst both are easy to find for less technically minded folk, such as pensioners, Channel 4 is a public service broadcaster, whilst ITV is a commercial network. A public  service network will assume responsibilities a commercial one will not.

Channel 4, whilst in the hot seat remained fully committed to the sport. Their Morning Line outputted every week and month in broadly the same slot for years. It was known and understood. Racing was kept, again with few exceptions, on their main channel. People knew where to find it.

From the outset ITV only guaranteed a certain amount of shows on their main Channel, the residue to appear on ITV4 and even ITV3.

A few months ago, Mark Demuth, controller of sport at ITV said in an RCA seminar, that The Opening Show, which has notably struggled, needed to improve. That was a considerable understatement for a Racing show only hitting 30,000 viewers for it’s output at Aintree last year, the figures for many of the shows haven’t been made public, The brush. In the meantime, what has Demuth done about improving that show? He’s kept it on ITV4, and only after various 1970’s Cop shows have had the prime 8am slot, even on Grand National day. You see, that’s when most Racing folk and even non-Racing, would be watching.

ITV1 achieves around 15% of audience share. Channel 4 just 5%. With such a considerable advantage, should we not expect a considerable uplift in audiences? Racing chiefs though, signed up to a deal which consigned many of the meetings to ITV4, with just 1% audience share. Odd decision.

Behind the scenes at Channel 4 racing

(Channel 4 production)

In fact, the total numbers of people watching racing through the year has declined in the millions under ITV. In its second year at Cheltenham declined by 4% on their previous year’s performance and was some 14% down for the Gold Cup.

So ITV has failed to improve on Channel 4 at both of the last two Nationals, the Cheltenham Festival meetings, Champions Day (0.5m) and Royal Ascot.

In 2017 the total viewers for Racing had declined by 3.4 million viewers from Channel 4. A figure not easily explained away by ‘uplifts in people watching racing on streaming devices.’ Or ‘the weather.’ Guess what, we always have weather.

ITV’s first effort at the Blue Riband Racing event the Grand National, experienced a decline of 18% during the race on Channel 4. That’s nearly 2 million less people watching our feature race. Why? Lack of promotion? Format?

You can ‘paint’ the numbers in many ways to suit your argument, and some will argue that. Such as percentage of audience share. But for me if the show is watchable, people will tune in, especially at 5.15pm. This change in time slot was an intelligent move by the Regulator. Whichever way you look at it, the ITV performance has been deeply disappointing, given the Channel’s evident dominance in share over Channel 4

The difference was people associated Racing with 4. With ITV, they simply do not. They often struggle to find their Racing. Channel hopping is a big deal.

So what’s gone wrong? For me the ITV afternoon format works exceptionally well for Royal Ascot, York and Glorious Goodwood, and I really enjoyed the coverage, indeed for me despite the budget spend, the style was more in evidence. The network has obviously attempted to widen the appeal of Racing to a different audience. These meetings work exceptionally well. A+

However, many of the other meetings, especially Aintree and Cheltenham are not based on fashion, social networking or garden parties at all. They’re about betting. In said regard, ITV has totally alienated the core audience for Racing, with a focus on Facebook and girls in nightclub dresses with orange legs.

People ask me why I’m so upset on this subject. Because I feel Racing should never have dropped a committed broadcaster, which guaranteed viewers 90 days Racing a year, a regular morning show and let’s also remember several evening highlight shows. Something ITV have quietly dropped I question their enthusiasm, and I don’t mean Chamberlin. I mean the controllers. Racing is not a good fit for ITV. They’re uncomfortable with the Betting and searching an audience that simply doesn’t exist, whilst alienating their existing fan base.

ITV show little appetite to improve the dismal morning show with consideration to moving ‘Ironside’ from the more favoured slot. What on earth are they playing at? Since when does a broadcaster be awarded a contract to show such an iconic sport, yet favour Colombo, I mean, haven’t we all seen every mystery solved already?

There’s far too much time spent on middle-aged men standing or sitting round a table telling us all what to think of Racing. Surely ITV realise it’s boring? Where are the Racing features, interviews with trainers, stable tours? And why don’t we hear from the eternally engaging Paddy Power on what Bookmakers have been laying. Quite why ITV has decided to outlaw Betting is simply beyond me. Racing is not a hybrid of ‘Good Morning Britain.’ It distances the product from its core audience. Bettors.

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ITV’s ‘gameplan’ in selecting Chamberlin and Cumani, with Fitzgerald, Harvey, Plunkett over Luck, Cunningham, McGrath, had to be about ‘widening the appeal of the sport.’ All very well if you achieve that, which they have not, and if you’re careful not to outlaw the core viewer for Racing – the Punters. Chapman was taken on because he’s popular and could do his man of the people act. For me, Chamberlin and Cumani work. He’s a consummate performer. She struck me as a female version of Lord Snooty. I quickly changed my view when I heard her discuss horse actions and profiles. This is what I feel Channel 4 lacked. How does a horse move on the ground? Does his action favour Chester. Relevant.

Betting was the first consignee to the bin. That’s why Cheltenham and Aintree fail. People don’t tune in to Aintree for the joke fashion parade of the year, they tune in because they like a bet. Quite why ITV ignore the millions of people who watch the Grand National because quite a lot of them are in fact having their one bet of the year. Instead of the eternally dull focus on single white middle-aged males who used to ride in the National, why not rise to the ideal that Betting represents the appeal to many people in this country of the Grand National. Because they want a bet, or they’ve had a bet.

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As for the weekly diatribe of poor quality pundits telling me, I have to think ‘its marvellous.’ I tip my hat to you for keeping a job. Not one of these types adds a single viewer. We’re not dribbling fools with remotes. We’re genuinely not interested in questions to aged jockeys about what it feels like to ride a winner. I think we’d all like to hear good jockeys like Fitzgerald start to tell us when a ride was good, and equally when it was bad in his opinion, or perhaps dare to criticise trainers who use horse welfare as a casual excuse to avoid a difficult race.

The future? There simply isn’t one with ITV. They won’t like the numbers.

Whilst ITV has made every attempt to widen the audience, it hasn’t been successful, in the meantime, they risk losing the interest of their primary audience – the punters.

Chamberlin will end up back at Sky because only they can afford him, and I feel that’s Racing’s loss. Cumani will end up on the sofa of Good Morning Britain, and eventually some wily controller will discover that the ‘marvellous’ lot, telling everyone how they need to react to Racing, don’t add a single bum on seat and get back to servicing the existing Racing public aat a time when they can view, and on one Racing Channel.

http://www.geoff-banks.com

gb33

 

A tonic for the black market.

Few states consider a self exclusion scheme for gamblers. Most are simply ineffective. We are planning to migrate the current exclusion scheme into a multi operator arrangement. In simple terms-exclude with one – exclude with all..

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Operator after operator facing stiff fines for breaches of the current arrangements. Most people take the view these companies are wholly responsible for their actions.That problem gamblers need protection (from themselves). Whilst all operators understand the new regulations I wonder at the level of regulatory action when the scheme is being so routinely abused by punters, as it is today. That’s a factor not fully appreciated.

Why? Because the current scheme was poorly constructed, allowing customers to self exclude with operators and continue to bet elsewhere. That’s a thorough nonsense, really it is, and we as operators have been left dealing with it for far too long. The new scheme is a simple hybrid of the old. And in a further un-recognised twist, we live in a world of professional bit traders and match bettors, who would think nothing of subverting bookmaker systems to cleverly exploit ‘breaches,’ – place wagers, and if lose, run to the Regulator, who very often panders to that complaint. Operators are regularly beseiged by traders, operating multiple ‘friends’ accounts, pretending to be general recreational punters, when they are in fact business users. Opening ghost accounts thereby breaching the agreement they entered into with the operator in the first place. When they are eventually caught, and restricted, they try to revenge by causing an operator issues with the Gambling Commission.

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I’m no fan of any of these large betting companies. They have found themselves in breach of self exclusion schemes they took part in and helped develop. Sic.. Equally I believe the people at the Gambling Commission believe they’re doing the right thing here in editing the existing scheme. They’re not villians. But where I disagree with policy, I’m going to highlight those inconsistencies

I welcomed Sarah Harrison announcing just a year ago that the Commission would start utilising license review as opposed to the series of fines they had previously favoured. I welcomed stiffer regulation. Shortly after that?  The announcement that Ms Harrison had resigned. Most people took no interest. Not me, I was always of the opinion she was respectfully removed because her ambitions for license review didn’t sit well with Ministers, bent on business – whatever the cost in social terms. We’ll never know will we?

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What’s clear is the Commission has absolutely zero appetite for license review. The Birmingham Regulator has shopped its hand on that. Pay your fine and carry on.

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The latest to feel the Regulator’s intervention – Skybet. I’m no particular fan of this Alderney based company, worth 3.6 billion, who cannot seem to guarantee to lay a bet to lose £100. According to the numbers they had 50,000 self-excluded customers. 800 so called duplicated accounts were opened by those who excluded. Marketing wasn’t turned off and monies were not returned.  We are told they ‘fell on their swords’ and shopped the breaches themselves to the Commission. That is simply untrue.  If the level of unreturned funds and duplicated accounts is accurate, the Gambling Commission would have been made fully aware, by many of the customers affected, of what was going on, for many months, as they were for 888Sport. The fine though, one million to a business worth 3.5 billion betrays the Regulator’s discomfiture.

Personally I don’t view Skybet as arch criminals, I think the current SE scheme is a nonsense. The impression I get, probably driven by their Chairman, (heftily involved in several major charities) is of a company moving in the right direction socially. We need at least one major operator to break ranks from their chums and start to engage on their duties in laying bets and trying to act in a responsible manner.

But what of the 800? Were they all ‘children’ really needing protection from themselves, or just more individuals seeing an opportunity for some non risk wagering? I question whose responsibility it is in life when so many abuse a poorly framed scheme.

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I’ve had many conversations with sensible folk at the Commission on Self Exclusion.  They have to be seen doing their best to assist problem gambling. They favour operators establishing air tight exclusion controls, and paying for the treatment of the same, and they have moved to a position where the operators are now responsible for people breaching exclusion orders. Ehm, when did we become the scapegoat for people’s abuse of a well-intentioned scheme?

What the Regulator does not favour, is required controls on the volume of marketing UK consumers face daily. This puts the cart before the horse on the creation of problem gamblers,  and betrays their number one mandate.

  • To create a favourable environment to keep operators operating legally in the UK.

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I’ve spoken to many customers who have self excluded personally. That’s unusual insofar as most companies let them go without discussion. Most exclusion requests are grey, more often than not they’re not related to genuine problem gambling issues.

For me it’s totally necessary to engage personally with my customers. We literally have to fight for every client, because the current scheme is so widely misunderstood. It’s doubtful Skybet’s CEO has spoken to a single excluded customer. In said regard I have a somewhat unique perspective. We get people self excluding because they don’t like the colour of my website, or because I don’t offer cash out. There are as many ridiculous reasons for exclusion, as there appear to be genuine. If we engage with a customer and he says he’s self excluding for reasonings not related to problem gambling, we gently steer them towards closure, or deactivation. It’s the right thing to do. If they discuss gambling issues, any stress, we agree to discuss that instead.

What is a problem gambler? Gamble Aware say:

Problem gambling is behaviour related to gambling which causes harm to the gambler and those around them. This may include family, friends and others who know them or care for them

So the 50,000 Skybet self excluded customers fell under that description? Of course not. Most would very simply have done their money, and like everyone else in life called a temporary pause. Unfortunately the minimum period of ‘pause’ is an incredible six months long!

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Two statements are absolutely true
1. There are not 50,000 problem gamblers with Skybet
2. The majority ( I estimate 80%) of those who do self exclude either return to gambling shortly after their exclusion with a company, or who never actually stop gambling at all.

 

This is primarily because the scheme created for operators, as well as problem gamblers is flawed to its core.

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Most ‘excluded’ customers simply bet elsewhere almost immediately. In that regard it’s impossible to argue they are true problem gamblers. They are most certainly addicts.  Some will leap on that word, surely an ‘addict’ has to be stopped from gambling? Hell no!! Almost 100% of the adult population are addicted in one form or another to alcohol, smoking, shopping, drugs or gambling. Are we to intervene and attempt to control everyone’s lives? Many are quite happy to be addicts! Ever seen an alcoholic enter a bar and be refused his first drink of the night??

Do we see the regulator that makes claim to assist problem gamblers take reasonable steps to control the volume of advertising on all media platforms? No, they don’t see that as a necessary step. They’re simply NOT commited to controlling problem gambling where it could impact their unspoken mandate – to create an open gambling environment gambling operations want to perform business in. Lord Chadlington takes up my concerns below..

adverts

What the Gambling Commission gets right is in stating that an individual ‘has to take responsibility for his own actions.’ It doesn’t seem to stop them, it seems, from assuming every breach is the fault of the companies.

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This leads me increasingly to the view the focus on Operators to ‘manage’ people’s problems, other than by the removal of marketing at sourse, as a deeply flawed approach. I wonder if anyone understands the variance in exclusion requests, and how difficult it is to train staff to deal with each case? The regulator now expects us to routinely lose our customers, without complaint. Further to give responsibility to ordinary folk who can never be expected to understand complex exclusion schemes the red button. With the real likelihood their next wager is with an operator in Russia.

The regulator says it will protect us from unregulated operators doing business with us right now, by taking firm legal action, against those doing business with our citizens. That’s a fiction. Bet365 have been able to operate into China for many years, and there’s apparently nothing that government can do about it. Governments in states licensing operators like Bet365 would have to agree with the Chinese to take action. Practically it doesn’t happen.

http://www.igamingbusiness.com/news/bet365-we-are-not-breaking-chinese-laws-0

 

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I object to the ‘nanny state’ where Governments and its regulators assume everyone to be a dribbling fool, incapable of avoiding Ray Winstone. Most of us are not that way, indeed we are grown adults in a free society and to gamble or drink is our choice. I wonder if the Commission is fully aware how may actively abuse the current scheme, because they know they can wager elsewhere? How many of the 800 or so who signed up with Skybet to gamble with them, when they previously and knowingly self excluded with the same company, were doing it to deliberately subvert the operator from its money? Open a ghost account and if lose, scream the place down. Ah, you say, does that really go on? In a world of matched bettors, who act like their above humanity, indeed- it frequently does.
And should operators be held responsible for those who intentionally breach the rules to return to gambling? I see no reason why we should. .

The Commission, for its part, does have to demonstrate a commitment to the protection of vulnerable folk. I get it. They’re moving forward with Gamstop with the multi operator scheme. What this means, for all of you out there who treat self-exclusion as a knee jerk reaction to losses and who do not see themselves as having a true gambling issue, is that if you self-exclude with Gamstop, the new body, that has a finality you’re not going to understand.

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Unquestionably the black market is going to be the joyful recipient of thousands of the UK’s gamblers, who self exclude and think they can still bet a week later when Cheltenham is on. This seems to be a gamble the Commission is prepared to take. For me, it’s the number one concern, we have to keep people in a well regulated environment.

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I argue the new scheme has to soften on current arrangements, if we are to bolt on the required Multi Operator element. With take a break options as a first measure for all, to give proper pause. And educational options, paid for by operators, to allow earnest gamblers who have changed their mind on exclusion to be able to return to gambling with a regulated operator. We should all share that ideal. I envisage a type of motorists penalty points course, designed to offer a managed return for gamblers, who have recovered from their ills, or just having changed their minds. We simply have to offer a managed loop hole for those who reconsider their actions.

Most certainly the terms of self exclusion cannot be so lengthy. Quite why 6 months was floated, and accepted as a minimum term is beyond me. Once again people who do not deal with gamblers coming up with arrangements affecting so many, but targeted at protection of so few. They’re addicts and they have to be seen that way. They WILL circumvent the scheme.They’re addicts and they have to be seen that way. They WILL circumvent the scheme. The minimum self-exclusion scheme should in fact be one month- to encourage people to use the arrangement and most certainly no longer than one year. A lot can happen in a year in people’s lives. It’s a lot like the Racing Post bigging up their gambling friends and then turning to the whip debate to appear socially responsible. In the same vein the Gambling Commission permits an assault of advertising, encourages offshore giants to prosper at the expense of UK operators, but thinks if it invents a draconian scheme for self-exclusion, that that makes them socially responsible.

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People’s circumstances change, they should be able to change their own minds without an official telling them they cannot do so. If there is to be any gambling going on, let it be in the regulated market. Let’s understand there’s actually only a tiny element of true problem gamblers (less than 0.5%) for which we’re busy creating a scheme based on absolutism.

Neither Gamstop, nor the Commission itself has conducted surveys to ascertain how many of those who do self exclude, actually return to gambling. I feel before you make such decisions, its fairly critical to find out why people are excluding right now.
We are entering into a period, fellow gamblers, where the Regulator has decided, for better, for worse, to cast a wide net over anyone who chooses self exclusion. If you’re not seriously committed to calling a total halt to all gambling activity, best look at take a break options very seriously. As for the Commission, you’re a real tonic to the black market. It’s the UK Gambling Commission that needs to re-assess its approach.

Cheltenham – The Bookies View

After the Sun Alliance I took the staffers to dinner. A lively Greek restaurant where everyone, bar the owner was Irish..  So Ireland have bought Greece with our money. That’s fair. The large group near the bar connected to RSA victor, Presenting Percy – and they were singing like larks. It goes without mention that we could have floated home without a boat. Spirits were high, even if we were the only people in the place to have lost money on the race! It was a tremendous atmosphere and it reminded me how important Cheltenham is to connections, what a buzz it must have been to have one of next year’s Gold Cup prospects in your camp. It’s important to remind yourself of what Cheltenham means to ‘lesser’ owners. I’ll come to that point.

naomi

To a traditional bookmaker, Cheltenham still represents one of the punting weeks of the year. Not many track bookies turn up in yellow Rolls Royce’s these days. It’s a world of ‘match bettors’ and their laptops – crowing about backing an even money chance and laying it back at 1.98. Heroic stuff. Win or lose, its an annual pilgrimage for gamblers, even if ITV think betting should be swept under the carpet. Average crowd sizes of 60,000 are impressive, and a constant. Anyone that listens to Sky News for their weather reports is an idiot. They send the cameras in search of snow and ice to the Northern Hebrides as if such weather paralyses the whole country! Nothing quite like a scary weather story. It was pretty glorious at Cheltenham all week.

 

My office lost an impressive amount of money. I think its lost at the Festival the last five years in a row. It’s a hard heat to make cash in the online world, when supermarket betting uses the Festival as a market share battleground. Non-runner – no bet the stuff of dribbling fools in the marketing department. Money back offers – crazy stuff from any functioning business, why they’re all getting acquired – doh! Clearly we need to compete with such firms and their deals. We decided on 1/4 the odds in all races, and some extra place races every day, indeed six places in the Supreme Novices.

This brings you under the radar of so called ‘each way snipers

 

Here’s your first lesson in why online bookmakers, such as myself, sometimes have to close or restrict an account. It involves maths to understand, so I hope you’re good at sums 🙂

The each way sniper looks for races offering extra places. And any odds with a bookmaker that exceed the Betfair exchange. Even if the difference is small. Say I offer 6/1 a horse, which is 6.7 on Betfair, that offers the arbitrage player two vehicles for a risk free profit. They place £200 each way with a proper layer such as myself, lay the win bet back at 6.7 on Betfair, cop £1200 from me for the win bet, payout £1140 for the Betfair ‘lay’ (requiring a bank of money on Betfair of course) Make a guaranteed, risk free £60 if the horse wins. On the place I paid 1/4 odds all races. Snipers wait on races with extra places, that the bookie pays out on, but on which he collects for his contra ‘lay’ bet on an exchange. You see exchanges pay the recognised official number of places, so if I offer the extra places, or better place odds, the savvy sniper can collect both ways if the horse finishes 5th! This is why the best Racing Festivals are so popular with matched bettors, there’s so many enhanced offerings to scalp money from.

Additionally there are multiple opportunities for each way snipers if the Bookmaker pays 1/4 the odds against a place ‘lay’ on Betfair. On many occasions the bookmaker pays a lot more on the place book than is paid on the exchange. A little understood fact. It permits the snipers to ‘trade’ a guaranteed and significant profit, without any risk whatsoever. Such each way sniper websites offer calculators to assist these individuals to lock in a guaranteed profit. Simply enter the bookmaker odds and the current Betfair odds, and your profit for no risk is clearly displayed.

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The sniper’s calculator tool above.

How should I view such ‘customers’ who utilise such tools to guarantee a profit. First I think it’s important to distinguish between the genuine punter who studies his form and places his wager,  what I term a recreational user. Win or lose we almost never close these people down. But the arbitrage players? To me they are ‘business users.’ They’re not interested in the selection, the jockey, the form or even gut feel. They’re simply playing a numbers game for guaranteed gain. Unlicensed and untaxed layers. They are not genuine customers, and in actual fact their activities have an extremely damaging effect on the ‘recreational punters,’ by having their accounts unfairly factored. We for our part try to maintain a lay to lose far greater than any other firm of £1000 for the horses. (And many sports besides.) But we simply have to eradicate ourselves of these ‘business players.’ – if we are to stay in business ourselves.

‘Business’ punters can be identified in two further ways. They scream the place down if they are closed by bookmakers, as you have effectively closed a route to guaranteed income. And they unfairly describe ‘recreational’ punters as ‘mugs.’ They think they’re being clever.

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Why mention the topic of arbitrage players online? Because I think education is important if we are all to understand each other. And to combat bitchy types like Matt Chapman, who felt it might be fun to use his platform online to criticise us publicly for the occasional closure of accounts. More than hypocrisy given his relation to the restriction Kings, Sunbets. . We offer exceptional guarantees, unrivalled in the online industry, and only close down what we see, with proper analysis, ‘business’ accounts.

Matt Chapman is, in my view, an entertaining pundit. He spent the year telling everyone to back ‘The Machine’ as I recall, for that matter, anything owned by Rich Ricci! I wouldn’t criticise such fortitude. Fine he’s a punter, and I respect opinions, but don’t pretend to understand the online betting world for a second Matt, whilst representing Sunbets. And when you’re ready to have someone more entertaining than Aussie Jim McGrath up against you on your various shows, and challenge your views, I stand ready to entertain, and inform. Up to now Matt Chapman prefers sycophantic pundits so he can shine. Let’s see how you do against someone that actually understands betting in front of the camera. I’m not shy and Racing telly certainly needs a kick up the backside..

 

The best performances at Cheltenham came from the girls. Making a compelling argument that if you give them the tools, they can get the job done off level weights. Surely the greatest fortitude came from the diminutive Harriet Tucker, given her chance by Paul Nicholls over the daunting track, winning here race despite a partial dislocated shoulder. Quite outstanding.

harriet

Worst performance, in similar vein, the Cheltenham stewards who sanctioned her for ‘use of the whip over the permitted level.’ Truly they are a stupid and inflexible bunch. It is certainly long overdue for some professional officials to sweep away all those amateur do – gooders.

 

There was a lot of good at the Festival, the track looked in good order, the new changes were impressive around the paddock. I still hate the plastic cup mentality, but it seems our regulator has no appetite to force tracks to consider the dolphins in the chase to sell booze. Races went off to time, near enough, no start dramas and the odd tragedy on the track tenderly handled. It’s a Festival that simply must survive and prosper. It remains the greatest Festival of all, because it is about the true Racing fan and the gutsiest of horses.

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We await the telly figures for ITV, but it must be said their Opening Show as beyond dreadful. Positioned long after people have left for work, or the racetrack. A one hour ‘chatathon’ devoid of features, no interviews with trainers, no form guides of any note. No special guests like Ted Walsh, just the same crusty bores preaching how we need to bow down to Samcro, and anything else under 2/1. Whatever..

ITV simply refuse to acknowledge the presence of punters in their audiences. In a recent speech, the controller of ITV sport promised action on the Show, with its dire figures. He hasn’t however shown any appetite, to spend a penny to save the show, with ‘The Persuaders’ (1970) allotted the prime 8am slots during the celebrated Cheltenham Festival. Committed? No, Mark, you most certainly are not.

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There are some very dark clouds though on this code. And do take strong heed of these words. It’s all very well celebrating the achievements of Messrs Mullins, Elliot and Henderson. It is, however, considerably bad news for Racing, other trainers, and the fans, that two of those three named actively pursue policies designed to cut up the National Hunt to their own ends. It’s a matter of fact, that were the stars distributed to lesser stables, we’d see them more in front of the public than for examply Might Bite, out since December.

We should have been able to market and promote the greatest potential battle of the Festival, Douvan vs Altior. Instead we were instead treated to a weekly diet of will he – won’t he. Even the ridiculous ‘Altior stubs toe’ nonsense two days before the race, was the stuff of a truly desperate Racing Press, and a trainer who seeks every opportunity to big up his business in front of the telly. If they stuck a camera in Henderson’s toilet, he can show us which paper he uses. It’s gone beyond ‘nothing else to report.’ Add Henderson to the annual Rich Ricci show and you end up with the season pantomime, both competing for the ass end of the donkey.

It’s long long overdue for the Regulator to enforce minimum conditions of entry to the Festival, to include actually Racing in front of the general public, rather than racecourse gallops. I mean who came up with that plan? Let’s have an end to this annual farce and a BHA who put the sport before such trainers

 

Mullins once again stuck a Champion Hurdler into the Grade 2 mares race. I’d hazard a guess at her true rating of circa 160, some 13 pounds clear of anything else in the field. All very well for Willie, but it’s overdue for this practice to stop. There HAVE to be events at the Festival for lesser owners, who pay exactly the same fees as Ricci, to enjoy and take cheer from. Manchester United cannot play in the EFL trophy for excellent reason, it’s competition aimed at lower leagues. If you fail to give lesser owners an opportunity at podiums, they’ll quit. It is for this reason I famously argued with Ruby Walsh over Quevega. It’s simply wrong to farm the opportunities of lesser owners.

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Poor fields characterised several championship races. Notably the Triumph, Mares and Arkle. With Racing only fielding an average of 4 horses a race in novice chases there’s a clear and terrifying prospect that we cannot put together a decent Gold Cup. As an honest owner told me recently, it pays to race at Southwell as he gets cash down to 8th place. He can race 15 times a season no bother. It’s simply more economic, and he gets into the winning enclosure with his equine love. In the National Hunt, like as not he’d have little chance of victory in regular races against top stable product. A worse situation in Ireland I’d imagine. The small National Hunt owner is at a significant disadvantage against the major stables and owners paying half a million a horse.

 

We simply have to double the prize money available in the jumps code, at ordinary race meetings, and pay down to 8th place in every race. Reward the small owner for their enterprise, rather than Betting Supermarkets and their demands for more all weather racing. Money must be found to save National Hunt from expiration at the hands of the All Weather. Cue Card is gone for all money. Has anyone noticed he’s not the only performer in his last year? Douvan? Faugheen? Such horses are done for all money. Where on earth are we to source product in 2020? we need to act with great vigour right now, if we are to combat Ireland’s new Festivals and keep Cheltenham at the top of the Racing tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gambling Commission – ‘protect the operator’

 

There are those that say the UK Gambling Commission is staffed by fools, that they cannot possibly understand their mandate. I think they do.

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In similar vein, others argue they’re toothless, without purpose, a waste of money.
I don’t buy into either of those arguments. Would it surprise those of you, who do not know me, that I favour a stronger, more powerful regulator?

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I’m reading everywhere, that the Commission takes ‘very seriously’ the problem gambling culture of the United Kingdom. They expect the operators to behave responsibly and whereupon they do not, they can expect large fines, or even ‘license review.’

I read they complain about dolly birds at trade fairs dominated by operators. Big deal.

I don’t hear them protecting children from Ray Winstone on their televisions at 8am. I do see them shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted – they work back to front, because that keeps the operators in money, they allow people to see gambling marketing at every turn, (exacerbating problem gambling levels,) then want the operators to pay for the problem gambling culture after its created. In simple terms – they work backwards.

Children caught in the headlamps of these companies.

I see lots of fines for big betting, for the same offences. I see increases in share prices. It’s good business to come out of the other side of a Commission investigation..

They’re not serious. In fact they’re a morally bankrupt and irresponsible body.

mrgreen-6001

GAMBLING COMMISSION ON OPERATORS
In the last two years, Gala Coral committed two offences in breach of money laundering regulations. In both cases the company allowed individuals to gamble away a huge amount of money, without appropriate checks being made.

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888Sport allowed self excluded customers to wager in other companies it controls. It had to have been informed by those self same customers when they lost monies that they had in fact self excluded.
888Sport are still in business today.

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You can gamble 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There’s no watershed as in for example lottery operators. You can fund your account with a credit card, with monies you do not have. You can wager an incredible £100 a spin, multiple times an hour, or minute even in a betting shop. Indeed the Gambling Act created the environment whereupon a casino replaced WH Smith in your High Street. You can back a horse that’s fallen on exchanges, a form of organised fraud.

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Watch a game of cricket, and you’ll be assaulted by a buffet of online operators, peddling their wares, headed by Hollywood hard man Ray Winstone on behalf of Bet365, shoving you into his ‘in play.’ We’ve become used to it. We’ve become immune from the harm it creates and the impact on children.

 

Racing channels totally ruled by their betting sponsors. Racetracks dependent on the betting cash from gaming companies. The leading trade paper totally, and unapologetically, subservient to its betting partners.

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Customers given bonuses and inducements in several forms to encourage them into insidious products like gaming. Try closing your account, or stop betting with one of these companies and wait on teaser back to gambling.

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Customers widely reporting of account ‘restrictions’ in their betting. Odds being advertised, yet no mandate to lay those odds?  Accounts with restrictions been kept open, in deference to share values, yet enquiries for wagers being met with responses offering £0. No explanations for these restrictions. No action from the regulator to ensure betting behemoths actually do what they say on their tins. If you advertise a price, you surely have to lay that price to all?

Where in the Gambling Commission’s drive on bookmaker’s ‘terms and conditions’ is their focus on actually ‘laying a bet’ as part of their conditions of licensing?

In such areas the Gambling Commission ‘passes the buck’ to other agencies such as the ASA, or trading standards. When in fact its knowledge and experience, in hand with an ability to remove licenses, should be acting to ensure their operators offer a level playing field and never post odds they’re not bound to lay. This regulator says its ok for an operator to post 10/1 Altior – but doesn’t have to lay it? Protection of the commercial interest of these bookmakers over requiring them to uphold their advertising!
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The mandate of this Gambling Commission isn’t so much ‘the protection of the vulnerable’ unless you logically conclude the ‘vulnerable’  are in fact offshore gaming giants.

Point of consumption arrangements for offshore companies allow the UK to pay into the UK treasury, and the Commission’s remit isn’t to stand in the way of those arrangements. If it did, it would clearly be seen to cut the ability of companies based in overseas territories to advertise to the home market. This cosy deal between our the UK Government and the operators severely disadvantages those who choose to actually base business here.

A Government permitting offshore companies to flourish, at the expense of those who base business in the UK. The objective of good governance is to encourage companies to operate within the confines and control of the state. Any other arrangement represents corruption in Government.

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Whilst tobacco and alcohol advertising are strictly controlled, we seem to have to re-invent the wheel for betting adverts. The Gambling Commission has no official position on the volume or scale of betting advertising. Said advertising and sponsorship is fast approaching a spend of 1 billion pounds a year. (Growth in spend between 2012 and 2016 was 46% to 456 million.)

Position of the Gambling Commission on fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops? None

Position of the Gambling Commission on Bet365’s illegal operations in China (as widely reported by the Chinese Government) None

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Gambling Commission executives argue that if an advert is ‘responsible’ that it passes the test. This wouldn’t be the view of millions of sensible people. It’s a clear defence of commercial self interest.

Am I the only one to think if you’re bombarded with marketing multiple times an hour that that simply exacerbates the problem gambling culture?

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Under the new UK licensing regime, operators deriving more than 3% of revenues from distinct international markets must disclose details of those businesses to the regulator, and provide a legal opinion justifying operations in those foreign markets. 20 major operators now base themselves fully abroad living off of grey earnings. The largest online operator under UK tax and regulation is, in fact, Geoff Banks.

Bet365 are capable of bringing in a half a billion of offshore earnings into the UK market every year. They use those monies to establish dominance, and distort, the UK market place.

.It’s hard to conclude therefore, given all these evident facts, that this Gambling Commission is in any way serious about the control of problem gambling,  For as long as its stance is to create a pleasing environment which encourages offshore gaming companies to behave in exactly the way they please, to advertise so voluminously, it remains my steadfast conclusion the Gambling Commission is quite simply not fit for purpose. All this at a time when the outgoing CEO appeared far more robust than her predecessor. The organisation is a paper tiger.

As this regulator presses ahead with changes to self exclusion schemes, they will create an environment where black market operations actively flourish. Once you design self exclusion schemes which have punters self excluding one day then trying to find an alternate avenue to wager the next, and you mandate operators not to do business with them for six months minimum, and then undertake never to contact them? That’s an invitation to the unregulated black market. Such schemes, whilst well meaning, remain spectacularly ill thought through.

The Gambling Commission would be better re-branded the marketing arm of gaming companies. I’ve never been one to pander to flim – flam. Less of the focus on pole dancers at industry shows, more on why companies are allowed to associate the word ‘Fun’ with responsible.

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I’ve met the people working for the Gambling Commission.As they sit at their desks today checking to see if websites have think 21 signs and a link to links to responsible gambling helplines, ponder that you’re in fact doing far more protection of operators than regulating. No career bookmaker, or educated punter, would conclude different from this analysis of your performance.

A bet to win £100 Sir?

‘When I was younger, I worked in my family’s betting shop in Yorkshire, and we never turned a bet down. ‘ Philip Davies MP.

‘Skybet undertake to lay to lose its customers, on Racing, £100. Richard Flint CEO of Skybet

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In the intervening period since Davies ran his family’s little LBO, things have changed dramatically in the world of bookmaking. Little bookmakers, the likes that Davies describes, are dying out, in favour of supermarket style betting companies like Skybet.

And they’ve stopped taking bets. They provide no reasons for these failures. They answer no questions on the matter.

As things have stood for a few years now, regulators, advertising standards, trading standards and MP’s have stood by and watched large betting corporations advertise products without mandating them to offer the same to all of their customers. I’m no consumer lawyer here, but it seems these companies are breaching several codes, not to mention basic consumer rights.

The Gaming Committee in Parliament has taken an important first step here. What I’ve always found hard to understand is the lack of activity amongst regulators to bring firms fully to account. Consumers have rights.

Richard Flint’s speech revolved, of course, on the rights of the company, in his view, to deliver profits for its shareholders. The rights of consumers, no, wait a minute his own customers were not considered. He is perfectly aware of the PR ills afflicting modern day business, but such matters are usually brushed over by Richard Keys adverts.

Of course, the views of Richard Flint were taken by Racing Post editor Bruce Millington who spoke with some passion to describe all nefarious means punters utilise to get a bet on, and even run business off of bookmakers, without beginning to understand why that was taking place. Nor that such behaviour can be readily controlled by online operators should they wish to. He discussed line trackers, arbers, bonus hunters, value burglars. All the bad things some punters are supposed to be up to these days. His sympathies very obviously lie with big betting as at no stage did he criticise Flint for their modus operandi, nor did he offer any workable solution as Rowlands did for the HBF.

The Racing Post is an active partner in such companies, the very future of his paper and jobs sold to companies that include Skybet. Bruce is, by extension, an employee. I found his participation odd, I mean what did the gaming committee expect to hear from the Racing Post editor? Certainly not a robust defense of consumer rights but I suppose most representatives of big betting declined to appear and explain themselves. The Racing Post has never to my knowledge ran any article openly criticizing its partners. It might ‘report’ on fines or the like, but comment? Certainly not as it has proffered headlines like the image shared below, sensationalising (errantly) the activities of on course bookmakers who do not sponsor the paper.

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Bruce did clearly say a ‘lay to lose’ minimum was something he felt would not work, but he’s totally wrong. It works extremely well in Australia. The eradication of nefarious activity in that state and a fairer betting platform either escapes his intellect or offends his commercial sense. A lay to lose minimum certainly can benefit operators, forcing them to bet to a margin where everyone is granted a wager, as they are entitled to.

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What Bruce should be screaming is why on earth everyone (but him) isn’t being afforded a bet. It is right that newspapers are seen to champion the rights of consumers. This is why I’d suggest he is so universally unpopular. A role he seems to embrace.

On the very day he was speaking ‘on behalf’ of punters, he sanctioned the first three pages in his paper in support of FOBT’s. It’s simply indefensible, little wonder the circulation is so low. Where is his respect for the many complaints directed at the trade paper, from his readers, for its defence of betting when they behave so poorly? The hypocrisy of this editor stinks.

Ok, so why ‘restrict’ anyone. If you’ve decided someone is no good – why risk the embarrassment of being a multi million pound company and laying a bet of £1? Surely you just close the account and move on?

No NO NO!

Let’s examine Skybet. Bought for circa 800 million a few years back by CVC. Business ‘grows’ in customers. It ‘Claims’ a half a million more this year to 2 million. It doesn’t release profit figures. In ‘growing’ the business CVC now plan to float the same at a proposed value of 2.4bn. Some rate of ‘growth’ that, – a fanciful figure! But you do the maths. If they even get close to that valuation for its owners, it dwarves doing a few million in because you laid ten places in the Grand National, or offer Best odds against everyone on a Saturday. So even if you do lose a few million ‘gaining weight’ the city loves you.

Conclusion? All you mugs are double mugs for opening up accounts with them, only to be treated like dirt because you’re good at punting and then permit them to keep your account ‘active.’

So you get it? It’s not about the win or loose, it’s the total number. Hence Bet365 ‘claim’ 22 million customers. The level of restrictions, given how close to the bone, even overbroke every Saturday on racing, they choose to bet. They ‘add’ value to the company.

This isn’t what Richard Flint covered, he knows you’re too dumb to figure this one out. He knows no matter how he treats you, you’ll sign up like soldiers if he offers ten places in the US Masters. You’re not very bright – are you? In fact I’d conclude so many who complain to me about restrictions are as dopey as sheep. Why should I care if your moral sensibilities end at their next offer?

How many of those treated so badly, sign up to my firm? Even if we’re just as competitive and lay every one of our customers a wager online to win at least £1000, I hear people say ‘I don’t like the colour of your website’ or ‘you don’t do cashout.’ So we treat punters with respect (punters-not traders btw) – we don’t do cashout, the highest value product to a bookmaker, we rebate a little to our customers every week and we don’t do gaming. We’re precisely what the smart individual should be about, being rewarded for their loyalty and growing old together. I’m a traditional bookmaker and very proud of it. I thoroughly disapprove of these gaming giants and everything they stand for. So should you, make a stand today and sign up to us.

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Richard Flint I found engaging, smart and non-confrontational. A decent sort, and at least brave enough to answer his critics. However, his company, and its peers, do bombard our children with adverts, exacerbate a problem gambling culture, allow people to fund their accounts with credit cards, and leads with slogans like ‘it matters more when there’s money on it.’  An odd campaign for a company more famous for what it does not lay, than what it does. Much of what they do offends a traditional layer like myself. I’ve only ever known laying bets, but they force me to compete on prices they choose often not to lay.

I do applaud this first step from Davies and his committee and the work of the punters forum. I note they haven’t had the courtesy of a response from many companies, that doesn’t surprise me.

Lord Lipsey had it right. He warned operators that to ignore the concerns of Parliament into their behaviour, or even to simply fail to engage with customers and regulators is a dangerous move for the companies. He also made the very valid point that for firms to advertise a price for something, yet not to lay that price, is an issue for advertising standards, of which he has considerable expertise. His view the ASA would likely rule against such operators for their failures to lay what they peddle. So why haven’t punters done precisely that?

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Apathy. Punters love a moan, but most are simply too damn lazy or feckless to do anything about it. They whine about Bet365 not laying them a bet, but meekly sign up to their next offer. Donald Trump was elected despite offending the sensibilities of women, Mexicans, immigrants.  People howl, then line up to sign on.

The bottom line, what it all comes down to, in betting, is PRICE. That’s the sole determinant of whether you lay a bet or perhaps not. And naturally how much you lay. Since so many offers are so very unsustainable in commercial terms, yet attractive in new customers.

If I look at a sea of punters in front of me at Cheltenham, I don’t think of who is undesirable or not. We simply don’t restrict bets on course since we run a book based purely on the odds. Indeed, the smallest fiddler on the racetrack would comfortably lay a bet to lose £105 to everyone. Something Skybet will not.

When on course bookmakers were mandated to respect each way standard place terms, they adapted. And so can big betting to any ‘lay to lose’ minimum.

Would some punters lose out? No, but traders would. Those currently utilising bookmakers to facilitate a business. Casual punters are not as obsessed by price as you’d imagine. They just want a bet and I have every sympathy with their complaints.

So a business based on PRICE and not MARKET SHARE would accommodate all of its customers. Isn’t that right Richard?

My point to the committee involved the UK Gambling Commission. They collect essential data from online operators for every quarter. Number of self-exclusions, cooling off, age and sex of new customers is all collated. Lots of interesting material on the demographics of the UK gambling sector. But they currently do not require operators to provide data on how many they close, how many they restrict. They seem afraid to tackle the subject. Why? Surely Parliament and the DCMS must be provided with this information, if they are to have an accurate picture of the sheer scale of the problem.

There’s a clear problem. They are responsible for fair play. Make it your business to find out what’s going on. That’s how you justify your wages lads.

Richard Flint claimed they only restrict 2% of their customers. I’m not sure if he was discussing ten pin bowling, but with my online experience, I’d say that figure was fanciful. In the absence of data who can accurately dispute anything he says?

How do restrictions work? You’d be human to imagine such impressive companies have the very latest tools and analysis, not to mention teams of staffers working on the problem. In fact, it’s depressingly low tech. Broadly based on rather simple software tools working at the point of sale. Bookmaker price vs exchange price. Yes, I did say exchange, the two-bit penny arcade that runs the show.

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Traders for such companies aren’t career bookmakers blooded at Ludlow over twenty years in the rain laying bets and understanding margins. They’re young, impressionable and often ill trained student types, trained to follow Betfair. Many of these traders I’ve met in interview, and their lack of depth and understanding into how punters think and behave is startling.

The truth is Denise Coates of 365 doesn’t engage with customers, – other than via Ray Winstone. They don’t answer questions, offer views, defend or trumpet the business. She’s not alone. William Hill, Betway, Betbright and Betfair have nothing to say on restrictions. They simply refuse to comment. They’re too ashamed to engage.

I’m in the online marketplace. I thoroughly support a lay to lose and it should be £1000 a bet for my customers. That’s what it is, with almost no exception. Yes, we close the traders down or stop them taking prices, but that’s only after personal and detailed analysis of their actions, and only when we conclusively feel they’re operating business off of our backs. And then we tell them exactly why we’re doing what we do.

For those of you thinking of challenging me on why I don’t just lay everybody right now every bet? Well quite simply I’m forced to compete with companies like Bet365 and their restriction culture or put the key in the door. So, patience is what I ask, until government mandates they offer a fair bet to all – I’m manacled to their policies. I do better than any of them in laying a bet to all my customers though. I’ve noticed barely a single restriction in my business in any wager to win at least £1000 in my business in the last month. We’re reacting.

What I support is a culture based on price and respect for all customers. I don’t agree with Simon Clare of ‘never a quarrel Coral’ when he says, ‘some need to be controlled.’ I believe it’s up to the operators to operate a fair platform of betting for all, to an acceptable lay to lose. £1000 is not a gigantic sum for companies turning over billions a year. Any argument against that level I’d challenge in any debate, bring on a straight debate. We operate to that level right now, don’t tell me Skybet, Betfair or Coral cannot match my offer.

 

Good luck getting a bet with them.

 

https://www.racingpost.com/news/news/are-bookmakers-unfairly-closing-customer-accounts-views-from-tuesday-s-debate/316874?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Wednesday%20News&utm_content=Speeches

Racing Post link to speeches given to the panel

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Unibet’s favourite ambassador

There’s a dangerous saying in Racing. ‘How dare you question me?’ One could introduce  perhaps ‘I am beyond reproach.’

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But Nicky, you’re not beyond reproach, for a second. In fact it does appear to coin another well turned phrase, ‘he doth protesteth too much’

Whilst I personally find Nicky,  a most amiable sort, and of appreciable talent, there are two things which he has to take fully on board. One, racing fans don’t have reason to appreciate nor like the commercial stance you are adopting in relationships with Bookmakers. And second, you have to accept that the behaviour of those who work in your yard, or how information is utilised, will be the target for speculation, for as long as you maintain horses are in great order, only to withdraw them a couple of days later.

The ‘some journalists are dead meat’ comment, is unprofessional, and unjustified. Frankly it’s a dangerous precedent, from a yard that so dominates the sport. Journalists have an important role to fulfil, and it’s not to kiss people’s backsides. Fine, we all accept Racing press notoriety not for hard headed sports journalism, rather a deserved reputation for the supine. Printing the rubbish peddled by top trainers as gospel has long since reached epidemic proportion.

See this interview with Matt Chapman from ITV’s feed in which he denies there was a problem with Altior on the Saturday before the Tingle, and maintains there was ‘no issue’

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjn1YjumaXYAhXpCsAKHX7WAJ0QFggwMAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.itv.com%2Fracing%2Farchive-clips%2Fmatt-chapman-speaks-to-nicky-henderson-about-the-altior-controversy&usg=AOvVaw1OlX8-6oTcPV6qZcU03oJu

And here is Nick’s Unibet version which maintains there WAS an issue with ALtior’s breathing the Saturday before

https://t.co/4dfZFYlzfq

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to understand which version I am to believe?

 

To deal with each point. One, the practice of association with Betting companies is an abhorrent development, something Henderson should be fully aware is deeply unpopular. Let me remind people how companies such as Ladbrokes utilise information to their advantage, gained from accounts they operate,  as in the David Evans- Rule 4 saga. Anyone that imagines these betting behemoths behave with impeccably good manners when it comes to money must be living in some form of fantasy world. None of them behave well. In fact there’s compelling daily evidence to show how low they have stooped as companies in their pursuit of accounts and money. They’re bound to use associations with top trainers to their commercial advantage, and to penalize their customers therefore. And Nicky knows this, hence his exaggerated indignation at Cheltenham.  Unibet have no reason to release your ‘information’ promptly. They are not a news service.

Punters simply think they are being cheated, whether that’s true or not, such association used to be outlawed, for very good reason. The BHA haven’t supplied any rationale for this decision, and don’t expect a docile Gambling Commission to do anything about it either.

To boot Unibet have ensured the very latest flow of information from Seven Barrows, via their association with your stable Jockey, Nico De Boinville. Couldn’t get any more insidious.

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Henderson simply shouldn’t be releasing information via any medium other than the stable’s own twitter feed, or perhaps via the racing press feed. Good news, or bad news. A Bookmaker is simply not the right vessel.

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As a bookmaker, we were aware of very significant monies for Fox Norton, for the Tingle Creek in the day PRIOR to the withdrawal of the mighty Altior. And we were not alone as the news was all over Twitter. Betfair exchange and other bookmakers reported the same pattern of monies. Fine, Hendo may not have personally made a final decision as to the participation, but others quite clearly had leaked their doubts to their associates, as to the participation of Altior. The fact remains, some people generously helped themselves before the information was released, and they were proven correct. Who was leaking this information, or were they all better informed than Henderson himself? You were after saying the horse was in ‘magnificent order.’

One concludes either Henderson doesn’t know the well being of his horses, he’s waiting on the strength of the opposition to show their hands, or someone else in his organisation knows his charges better than he does.

Perhaps it could be the myopic focus on the Cheltenham Festival. A subject which concerns many racing fans, excepting the regulator itself. The Tingle, Fighting Fifth and many more top races decimated. The BHA far too slow to establish minimum conditions of entry for the Festival. Something they’re told by the likes of Henderson ‘isn’t possible.’

It is. Yesterday I heard the NFL, the world’s best sporting body, totally re-jig it’s schedule next week, to put all potential playoff games on at the same time. Doubtless upsetting giant TV networks. That’s how to run sport. Act

The truth is – Altior will be another one of those top stars who turn up in March, having not experienced a real race (of his class) in the six month lead up to Cheltenham.

The pigs ended up in the betting trough, and people are fully entitled to know why, since they are investing in the sport.

Associations with big betting companies by jockeys and stables has to be ended by this BHA. There’s no sensible regulatory reason for such deals, other than to upset the very people who funded the sport to the tune of 52 million last year.

Remember, Mr Rust, the only people to benefit from those deals are the best of trainers and jockeys. The little guys rarely share in such windfalls, and if it in any way has the whiff of impropriety,-  it has to be outlawed.

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Finally, I would add that Henderson’s ‘how dare you’ approach, as a top trainer needs to be roundly condemned, in all quarters. This arrogant approach, that if you dare question anything I do, in the manner so common in other sports, is damaging to the good governance of racing. nobody should be above fair interview. Tell me why Nicky Henderson thinks he only deserves good press?

It wasn’t so long ago Nicky, that you were handed the softest ban in living memory for doctoring records, to conceal guilt, and administering banned substances to your horse. I don’t doubt the shame of reporting in those days leaves a hurtful stain in your memory, but you have to accept that those journalists, then and now, are simply, and fairly, doing their job. You broke the rules, knowingly, and with appropriate disregard for the rules. It’s more than a bit rich to claim the moral high ground over your associations with betting companies, especially if you don’t bet with Unibet. I expect most people get their racing news from the Racing Post, or the Guardian. Aren’t these more appropriate mediums?

So Nicky, accept the brickbats as they come, because you most definitely benefit from a veritable avalanche of good press when your horses do well.

I suppose I’m dead..

 

 

 

 

Tingle Creek – The Bookies View

I start the week at a responsible gambling conference held for on course bookmakers and hosted amongst others by the gambling commission. There’s a few cynical views I don’t agree with bandied about the room by career bookmakers, aimed at the hapless representatives of the Commission. Some say the GC is a pointless quango. I don’t agree.

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It’s hard though, to endorse a commission that claims it’s trying to control spiralling problem gambler numbers, yet makes no moves whatsoever to control the hundreds of television adverts aimed at the vulnerable and yes, let’s admit it, to our children, every single week.

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It’s hard not to be a cynic. One thing I’m certain of. If big betting is peddling James Bond lookalikes on our telly at 8am in the morning on every sporting channel we have? That’s gambling aimed at children. Let’s agree on that Ms Harrison.

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Here I am, teaching problem gambling control to the Gambling Commission..I’m struck by how self-evident such matters are – to everyone but regulators, who seem more bent on protecting big betting firms themselves.

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During the seminar, the phones started humming with texts for southern based bookmakers, bound for Sandown that weekend. Douvan out. He’s better named Divan.

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I don’t think anyone’s one bit surprised. It’s not as if this isn’t a regular occurrence from the thoroughly evasive Willie Mullins. It amuses me Rich Ricci is given oxygen on Attheraces to tell everyone but a day or two prior to pulling him out, that his horse is bound for Sandown. In defence of ATR, who else is there to interview in the sport, if not to prove his pure comic value? The channel’s job is to entertain. You cannot call Ricci a liar, because participation, once again is based on another one of their hometown gallops. No, Ricci isn’t a liar, but what’s certainly true, is your a complete idiot if you believe anything this man has to say about his horses, since he’s proved 100% wrong on multiple occasions. About his own horses.

More to the point, there’s far too many opportunities for such horses, it’s easy to be ambivalent about one target or another.

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Or have you all forgotten ‘Vautour heads for the Gold Cup.’ Such short memories.

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What’s certainly true, is more than 24 hours before the non declaration of the Okie Cokey horse, insiders were helping themselves to 9/4 Fox Norton for the Tingle Creek, and Divan was subject to a notable drift on exchanges in the run up to not actually being declared.

This needs to be investigated, and promptly. It’s not good enough to argue that because antepost markets are much smaller these days, that there’s nothing to see here.

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The question to be asked of Mullins isn’t ‘will he be OK for Cork Willie?’ more pertinent ‘can you explain the drift of Douvan in markets prior to the official notification?’ – Who was running to the betting shop and why? Isn’t this the job of regulators?

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Why isn’t Mullins and Ricci telling everyone they’re withdrawing him the very moment the gallop is deemed ‘unsatisfactory.’ I’m super aware there are snobbish views with certain trainers that what goes on in the world of betting is beneath you. The integrity of this sport supersedes your personal disdain for betting markets or punters. And Mr Ricci does happen to be the Chairman of Betbright. He has to be seen as super clean.

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Major jumps meetings always draw a sizeable crowd. There’s little doubt pound for pound National Hunt racing bests the flat code for interest. Perhaps it’s because NH stars last more than one season before they’re retired to stud? Whatever, it’s for sure we need to do everything possible to promote a dying sport. Because chasing is terminal to my mind in British Racing. Under pressure from French prize monies and the growth in all weather product.

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So Matt Chapman is right to argue, and I accept, the small field contesting the Tingle Creek is an inevitability. There’s simply not enough grade 1 stock, especially given the BHA is far too free with grade one status gifts to tracks. To boot there’s a positive glut of opportunities for too few horses. I’m of the view Douvan is perhaps gone as the force he was. He’s a big fellah, must be incredibly difficult to keep fully fit. He put in a shocker in the Queen Mum last year, they’re fannying about again this year. That’s if he gets to Cheltenham. Participation seems odds against right now. See if I’m wrong.

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But its up to the sport to appreciate it’s in crisis here. Novice chase numbers have been appalling for some years, averaging 5 per race, and we’re simply not doing enough to arrest it. We all live and breathe a good Gold Cup, or Queen Mother. If we don’t find some way to get more owners interested in bringing ex flat stayers of some worth into this code, we’re in a lot of trouble keeping sponsors and punters interested.

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Sandown has to be the best viewing track in the country and used to win racecourse of the year. Used to. Now I’d hazard for a major racetrack it’s at nearer the bottom of the performance scale. A huge indoor arena selling Guinness from temporary bars, a dwindling number of concessionaires, hardly any coffee bars, and huge queues for the few that remain on a very cold day. Not enough money in coffee? Ask Costa Coffee how it’s done. For indoor areas, see Ascot for quality, bespoke bars, facilities, comfortable seating, and yes, style. Well appointed, comfortable and very profitable. The difference between Sandown and Ascot is plain embarrassing.

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Counter Ascot with Sandown. A big empty hall, is that honestly the best you can do? Under investment? Well it’s self-evident not a dollar more than absolutely necessary is getting spent. Imagination? None. Beer cups, yes of course, JCR are fully committed to plastic.

Where’s the drive to prepare Sandown for the potential closure of Kempton? A tired facility, and no mistake. A thorough lack of creativity or drive from Jockey Club. Vin Ordinaire facility, with superb viewing.  I’d like a look at Jockey Club’s financials right now an organisation I’d hazard a guess, in far from rosy complexion.

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The Tingle Creek, stirring, exciting, perhaps the wrong result for the punters this time, but for all that a great spectacle. I like to see Nicholls pick up major prizes these days, he continues with his success, even if Mullins gains all the available press available for jumps racing.

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Overall impression? Well I still find the day extremely enjoyable, and it’s evident many of the racegoers do too. Winter jumps racing can deliver for this sport some of it’s most noteworthy and exciting finishes. Those in charge of this sport and these racetracks need to discuss how we can wrest interest back from football, cricket and rugby. The underlying numbers are far from impressive.