STORM IN A TEACUP

I’ll wear what I want to..

Newbury works hard. Not easy being the one down the road from Ascot. Host a very good winter festival and put up a pile of prize money, not always snapped up by connections. I saw a lot of happy faces in the crowd, yesterday 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. 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. That’s a bit sad as far as I am concerned, I enjoy the view, but I understand the sentiment.

There’s some scruffy urchins about these days. Supermarkets are best, excepting Waitrose,  folk there don tiarras to shop. Grungy folk decant from their sofa and strut about the streets. Jeremy Kyle has a lot to answer for. Standards all over the place are slipping and the establishment do not approve!

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Most amusing of all – the ranting from certain Racing Journos on the subject. Not for them hard hitting exposes on Godolphin, Field sizes, Levy deals, or the Integrity of Racing. Far more weighty matters such as why can’t they wear their jeans to members. Got it.

There’s a dress code at Ascot – and one at York, 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 Ad out in the paper – see what happens to the coverage then.

Anyone considering the long standing members of racetracks? Those happy to make an effort to dress appropriately and are proud to do so. Part of the thousands who walked into Newbury’s Premier Enclosure this week alone 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 are we just about the moaners in their jeans? Incidentally, £80 is bog average for a pair of jeans these days. Certainly couldn’t be described as ‘designer’.  Members invest annually in the racetrack and seek a certain standard of dress and facilities. If said were interested in joining the Silver Ring so they could dress down, 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.

As to the drab penned about brawls in Racetracks. Let’s be honest here folks, this has nothing to do with a dress code. Its about the proliferation of alcohol. Don’t let the facts spoil a good story. I will get to this subject.

Let’s deal with some inaccuracies. Nobody was ‘turned away’. Those without ties were admitted to the Premier. Newbury may have been a bit over bearing in checking attire, but there’s always a teething stage. Nobody was strip searched. Ladies were not required to look Victorian.

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Another myth – Racing is too class based. That’s nonsense. I expect to rub shoulders with exhaust fitters, Shop assistants, Poles, MP’s – 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 reminder 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 to work, no loss, most don’t have a lot to say anyway.

Whilst we’re on the topic of standards, and racetracks looking to improve upon them – I want to expand the topic slightly. I’m in favour of Racetracks smartening the whole experience up and appealing to all denominations. Where I’d roundly criticise tracks is their drinking policy. Or complete lack of.

Racing has become the Kings of the plastic cup. And I do not approve. Even serving their customers bottles of far too often overpriced Champagnes, in a top quality dedicated Bars, in plastic beakers.  (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. Excessively cheap approach.

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Let’s deal with one other red herring here. There’s no health and safety directive on glasses being used in bars, – none. 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. 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. To boot, health concerns take second place to profit. I wonder at the impact on our well being from drinking out of poor quality plastic, and the long term impact on the environment?

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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- and 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. Want to sell thousands of pints a day? Fine, but for the good of the Sport, spend a lot more money on private security to ensure the safety and well-being of patrons from those whose excesses turn to violence. No track appears immune to that. Adopt a football like scheme to outlaw those who fight from our lovely racetracks. Further, create havens in your tracks for patrons to enjoy – free of plastic and for those smart enough to appreciate it. We’re not all Oiks and we spend a lot of money enjoying our Racing too.

47 MILLION AND CHANGE!

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Ok, so that’s what the big 4 operators have guaranteed in Levy. And of course it heralds a new era of co-operation between Bookmakers and Racing. We’re all friends now eh? 8 million agreed with Betfair – money they didn’t have to offer the Levy by statute. Leaders In Racing conferences with keynote speakers led by Andy Hornby of Coral, livening up that borefest with a call for Racing to support his FOBT’s. In doing so more shops remain in business, with the potential for more turnover on UK horse racing. We’re all very encouraged by the co-operation between the new Racing – headed up by Paul Bittar, and the representatives of the largest organisations funding it. Top marks to him heralding in a new era and spirit of bonhomie between the parties.

Yes?

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’ of 51.5m is significantly lower than Racing has achieved from the Horse Race Levy for many a year. The 51st Levy scheme contained a guarantee of 45m from Hills, Corals and Ladbrokes. Two years on we add Betfred and get 2.5m more? 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 business is lost by attrition offshore. The Levy, to include the independent input and Betfair, 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 adds 2.5m more with one more major player in the cake? In fact, why bother even considering it? If you want Bookmakers to co-operate with Racing, shut them out of racetrack sponsorship, TV adverts and the like. Turn to the Government for support. Racing vs Bookmakers with legs in Gibraltar. Don’t worry, they’ll come quietly.

The multiples are popping champagne corks, and drinking to Bittar and Lee. That’s not meant as a joke. Now if I were 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 4.5m 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 6, 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 odd each. Lovely biscuits.

Paul Bittar -The saviour of British Racing, or a plating class salesman whose business plan involves the lowest funding level, but ‘we’ve made a deal’? 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, and run apps for the Racing Post. Oh I see.

Why would Racing go into battle against the Bookmakers for example with two racecourse Supremos? What was their role? I don’t believe Racetracks should be negotiating on behalf of racing when their most important sponsors are across the table. Perhaps the owners would have been a better choice. After all they are the primary benficiaries of levy.

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. But still no seat at the top table of Racing for them

As a leading expert in betting pointed out to me yesterday – the Fixture list has hardly changed but for a little bit of tinkering for as long as we can remember and within each meeting are quite often the very same races. The beginners chase at Sandown yesterday – won by Hinterland, regularly has small fields! The same course in January had a meeting where four of the races worth a combined £50,000 all with fewer than 8 runners. Small fields, odds-on favourites and poor over rounds aren’t fussy, every course is blighted. If only the courses reviewed such data, improvements could be made, races changed, to make it more attractive for trainers, owners, racegoers and betting shop punters. 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?

Final point, is the timing – less than a year before point of consumption comes into play we sign a deal. Nowadays, you can buy a cup of coffee made in the high street, served by British staff, sit peering out of the window at a red bus. In the meantime the duty 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. Gibraltar won’t fall into the Mediterranean any time soon. Result for Racing? More, not less, of the best customers routed offshore. By extension more dependency on a ‘guarantee’ of 51 million. Consider this, what would have occurred had the famed Ladbrokes high roller who shored up the levy to its highest level in recent years, 115m, been routed abroad?

1464 Fixtures.
Some key statistics.

January to March – 21% of all races, spread evenly between both codes, contained an odds on favourite. 24 races worth £5000 or more in January had less than 8 runners.

June, July, and August 15% of all races involved an odds on chance. A third of which were worse than 1\2, only 2.6% of Handicaps contained 16 or more runners -8% Percent of all handicaps had either 3 or 4 runners! 41% of ALL handicaps in those months – less than 8 runners! Handicaps I said..

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, who argued, with merit, 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, I invite you to listen, 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 for example would not make, but then he never ran Boots. 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, they 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 the field – they embrace it. Hornby’s 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 week whilst the Racing provides the background noise.

So here’s Bittar’s thesis. Get into bed with these 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 LBO’s, religion and decades of history matter little when the machines are running. 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, it’s hard enough to find a sponsor for the Grand National. I don’t doubt they can afford the gamble though, given many of their races run for £1940.

There are 28 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 mini casinos? 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, I’m not going to get that. Racing has become boring too much of the time. I rarely pass a shop every day without sticking my head in. 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 effect on the sub cards. Hardly a slash and burn is it?

The regulator.

So let’s deal with 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 exposes on this important area, except in the odd letter. 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, although just enough drifters win to cause doubt. Equally its utterly routine to watch a horse backed from 12/1 to 9/4 hose up in spite of dire 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. You get the idea.

If its the regulators role to police the sport, then Bittar is clearly failing in his duty of care to the image of this same 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. How many do we employ for 1464? 10?

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 hat to them from time to time, they couldn’t turn over an egg. Staffing levels are so poor with budgets cut, it’s an impossible task.

On arrival in the UK, Paul Bittar stated, ‘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 any deal?

There are several horses a month – all with similar profiles, exceptionally poor performances in lead up races, some beaten by margins approaching an incredible 80 lengths, heftily gambled upon, but with historical form that suggested they were well capable of winning races, masked by a series of poor outings. Check the reports into inquiries at the BHA how many of these horses end up being sanctioned, or their connections. What’s happened with the referrals we hear about? 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. If a horse with form figures of 8,8,7,0,7 suddenly goes from 33/1 to 9/2 it demands urgent action to find out why, for the good of the sport. Sky News seem more interested than the BHA into some of the shenanigans going on routinely. Is it now condoned to prop your training fees up by planning transparent gambles and slapping each other on the back? 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 of morning odds on Betfair with amounts as low as £51 – all 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. This should be a first step for the lawyers to push through.

If Mr Bittar doesn’t start to appreciate the importance to Racing of the smallest cog in the wheel – that of the humble punter, and his confidence in the betting product, – then we have a problem of leadership. Because to me, it’s of paramount importance. The customer must have faith in the product. We run the risk customers funding the whole deal through betting feel their views on integrity don’t matter to those running the sport. That’s a dangerous position to be in. How do we deal with it? Stop using the expression ‘we can’t discuss it’.

What about recent cases involving connections through the BHA hmm? Let’s brush over the Godolphin saga, it’s way too complex. However, what was with the Chapple-Hyam penalty. £3000 for misleading investigators by doctoring telephone records? Equivalent to one month’s training fees for a top horse. Cloak and dagger regulating with Frank Sheridan’s horse – Bert Trick, at Wolverhampton- being quietly asked to withdraw it after reports it had run in flapping races and following a collapse in price from 14/1 to 5/2? A top jockey called before the stewards to explain dropping his hands at Kempton, who simply denied it, which the stewards ‘noted’, or a horse at Hamilton in July which managed to improve 67lbs according to Timeform, with the trainer declaring he ‘didn’t think it would improve’. Again accepted by the stewards. What is going on with stewarding these days?

I recognise many of the problems outlined above were in place well before the arrival of the 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 and it’s a tool to market other products. Signing for a record low level isn’t laudable, it’s a sell out. Finally, if its the BHA’s choice instead of tackling sometimes rancid events head on, rather than pretending it doesn’t happen, then I feel it’s time for stronger leadership.

Bittar, contrary to popular folklore, didn’t sort out the whip two seconds after his arrival, more like a horrified Paul Roy rushing to clear up the mess created by a sub-committee formed to examine the whip issue. Roy had his critics, but he worked hard for racing and at least was far more visible than the incoming Chairman, and not afraid to take on Betting companies, patterns, or the establishment. Give him his due, he wasn’t a yes man.

The new chief-executive however, strikes me as rather like having a Scottish Chancellor. Everyone thinks its refreshing to have someone who doesn’t speak in polished tones. To my mind his obsession with large concerns has gone well beyond what is productive. When the Chairman of Coral starts eulogizing about the head of the BHA for striking deals and supporting fobt’s, we should, in my view, be deeply uncomfortable with what’s going on here. Unless that is, you consider Coral are more in love with racing than they are their machines

The honeymoon is definitively over.

http://www.geegeez.co.uk/bha-stewarding-review-must-look-at-non-triers/

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/feb/01/british-horseracing-authority-stewards-non-triers

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/horse-racing/15328393

BANKS RAISES TRADING ROOM CONCERNS

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Rails bookmaker and Racing Post columnist Geoff Banks has taken up the issues of licensing and the situation regarding on-course trading by Betfair – particularly in their sports lounge at Ascot – with the Gambling Commission, writes Jim Cremin.

Bookmakers remain upset at the variance in tax and expenses they face compared to internetbased exchanges. One gripe is over facilities that appear to be on-course trading rooms that they say attract people engaged
professionally in laying bets but who are regarded as recreational punters in taxation terms.

Provision of the facility has become important to some courses, with substantial fees being paid by in-running traders to use corporate boxes. However, Banks has been told by a Gambling Commission compliance officer that the
Ascot facility does not constitute a trading room. Bets are, in effect, taken through a separate company, Betfair General Betting Limited, which is a bookmaker, and then hedged into the exchange.

Banks pointed out this route covered punters backing horses on the exchange, but not the laying of bets. He said:

“Course bookmakers are strictly controlled. We face tests as to our probity and pay fat fees, but then someone can in effect stand near us and lay horses without control. Somebody’s having a laugh.”

Banks also raised with the commission concerns about some in-running betting where broadcasting time delays enable on-course exchange players to lay horses who have already fallen.

However, Banks was directed to the Gambling Act 2005, which states:

“A transaction may be a bet despite the fact that (a) the thing has already occurred or failed to occur, and (b) one party to the transaction knows that the thing has already occurred or failed to occur.”

A debate in the pub about who won the FA Cup in a certain year is cited as an example of something that leads to a bet, despite the result being known.

Originally featured in The Racing Post Tuesday, March 8th 2011

A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO WIFI

Ascot is my favourite track, by a nose from York, with Cheltenham a neck third because it’s champagne is 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 service standards, 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 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. And 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. And I know he’s a racetrack man through and through. Is it about customers really? Will it drive footfall to the tracks – increase their customer experience? The short answer, maybe to the former – but the answer to the second is at the bottom of this read, for reasons I’ll outline. Rod knows it’s about money though. 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 for that. When a customer thinks of Racing – will Wifi seal the deal on attendance when he’s got it already via his Apple? 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 dollar.

Except that they won’t (go racing) that is. Fellahs 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 I want you to picture a track without bookies. Here’s what it looks like.

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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? (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 rumpie-pumpie in my racing

So, to the humble Bookie, shivering in the ring. He’s invested in a pitch many thousands of pounds. He drives often scores of miles to work. Carries in heavy equipment, electronics. 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 little Bookmaker simply cannot withstand an assault from all directions whilst he shoulders the lions share of expenses.

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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.

You’ve come this far- step the last mile with me. Modern day telephonics already afford a user all the social networking a customer requires. If he wants to post a picture of him and his girlfriend (or boyfriend) on Twitter holding his plastic cup – he can do it, no bother on his existing network. Experience proves however – its 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 issue of ‘bandwidth’. It deals with speed of data. 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, 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 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 were you running a little business on track, how much pressure from the internet, paying pennies to bet directly to customers floating about the track, do you think you could stand? What percentage of a track’s custom frequent the ring, view, or feel it adds a sense of British to their day?

My solution? Is one which satisfies customers, excepting 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. You simply cannot expect to reap harvest from Bookmakers or Betting shops and allow BetVictor those same privileges for nothing. 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.

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The answer to the improved customer experience question for a racetrack with little or no Betting Ring, is it a better experience than Longchamp? You make the call. 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.By the same token tracks shouldn’t bite the hand that has fed them for so long.

Geoff Banks

October 2013

A £3 BET? ARE YOU SURE?

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 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 Millington of the Post. An Editor obsessed with over-rounds in the 9pm at Kempton, whilst running betting apps often running to 2% a runner. But he’s right in one area – Punters in many regards are treated in a shabby fashion these days.

I was in Cheltenham this week, filming a piece for JPFestival.com on the upcoming season. 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 FOBT’s role 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 most recently, so you’d think he’d have known better.

Anyways, he placed a wager his own firm unlikely to even consider to serious money to a Horse Race trader from a rival firm, given the likelihood the selection is ‘live’, and whined publicly about how he had been ‘restricted’ by my firm. Now, let’s not let the facts ruin a good razz, and note these are already in the public domain because he tweeted the same. The bet would have returned £3600, 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 from a client who’d wait like a spider for us to be substantially out of line before offering a bet. Evidently this trader had ‘marks’ in his office as to the pick, and can’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 business

It’s not 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 you’re 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 but £3.75 win. Hmm. Apparently my website works for placing wagers, it’s the roulette that doesn’t work properly.

e0Ag1hT

A picture says a thousand words tra la..

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 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. And 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 3.55pm 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 e mail addresses they gather, the better it sits on their resumes. 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 execs 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 exchange by playing at Bookie – you almost feel a sense of achievement. Fine you’ll do your bollocks laying anything on the machine – 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, has 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 agree 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.

Geoff Banks

November 2013

BRITISH CHAMPIONS DAY – A DAY TOO LATE

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. 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, 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 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 held that form up in outstanding style, and for me was the best performer in 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. 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 more originated 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.

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. 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. Ask a question of them and it’s ignored. Their Press Officer tweets only to advise of carefully worded press releases. Evidently the cushiest job in Racing is PR for the BHA. 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 the organisation engages with the Race-going public 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.

Further, there’s far too many entrenched views in the organisation. Committees are formed of like-minded folk, and the same well-meaning individuals involved in various differing quangos. I’ve seen it in Public School boys Clubs everywhere, – and it’s got that same whiff of establishment. It’s time to move away from such cultures and employ people to make decisions whose views offer a broader spectrum. Such failures at the head of the industry isn’t assisted by a super pliant Racing Post editorial. That’s left to the Guardian and the Independent.

Whilst we’re on the subject of the British Horseracing Authority, why should it be 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 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. Casino operators. I can only deduce the reasons for so many committees making decisions at number 75, without input from those thoroughly versed with Betting and its importance can be put down to pure snobbishness. I stand to be corrected of course. Policemen they have, Betting men they do not.

There’s a solution. There always is you know. It isn’t complicated. It may mean upsetting the French and the Irish. But 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 the British way? France is famous for bucking the rule book in so many regards. Should we feel obligated to respect their sensibilities? We could simply move British Champions Day back a month to Ascot’s September slot. Oh no, that’s just not cricket? Surely it’s just business – and good business? Give ourselves the best track, ground and poach the fast ground specialists from the French. Allez..

As to the ground yesterday – described as soft. 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.

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. 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 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 Baz, it would have been his brain child to move BCD from a track I know he loves, 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 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?

Geoff Banks

20 October 2013

LONG RUN MAKES IT A LESS THAN SUPER SATURDAY

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LONG RUN MAKES IT A LESS THAN SUPER SATURDAY

I think everyone missed their traditional Boxing Day outing, but a treat was in store in January. A high-quality nine-race card, plenty of concessions and
the promise of Kauto Star, win or lose, to boot.

I was hopeful the old-timer would get round safely and provide a good test, which he did, and he lost little in defeat to the winner in tacky ground.

Two things came out of the King George for me. First, I will be standing Long Run for his boots in March. He hasn’t got home at Cheltenham, or jumped the stiffer fences well enough. Second, if Kauto Star wins the Gold Cup, I shall turn up with my toothbrush and clean his stable. That will have Mr Nicholls rushing out for toothpaste.

Kempton also delivered on the promise of affordable racing. A massive crowd turned up to enjoy the day for only £15 in the main enclosure, and in doing so a leaf was taken out of York’s book; that track leads the way with high-quality racing, excellent facilities, cheap champagne and good entrance prices.

Kempton has shown what can be delivered in the south and I know we’ll see more of this as some twilight meetings, for example, are to be free. For the bookmakers, it meant plenty of business; for the punters the day meant Nicky Henderson. I’m starting to dislike him. Five winners, which should perhaps have been six, and the forecast up in the King George. We practised our paying-out skills, honed by what appears to be a year of poor results on ‘Super Saturdays’.

Binocular was the most expensive for us – as I suspect it was for most – landing a string of big bets. I’ll admit that we managed to win on the day, a feat right up with the loaves and fishes trick. We bet late, and never more than ten minutes before each race, in part here because it took 20 minutes to pay out on the previous race. We found prices had moved somewhat in our favour as larger rates had been taken by then for the fancied runners. Long Run, backed in to 9-2 from 7-1, won very little. But it was a different story in my office, where glum faces greeted me. Traders Elder and Dave had started placing the office furniture on eBay as it was one of the most expensive days of racing for a year. There were a series of wagers on the Pricewise tip, Long Run, including a single wager of £2,000 at 13-2, and oddly enough very little for Kauto Star. Ladbrokes declared the day to be lousy and I would endorse this description. I’m guessing the day was a disastrous one for the off-course firms. I sent my cv to Ronald McDonald.

MORE QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY

The big betting news of the fortnight was the punishment meted out to the individuals involved in the Sabre Light episode. Such incidents tarnish the image of our sport and doubtless put people off betting. You can hardly blame those who abandon wagering on events that are subject to this behaviour. But it was good to see the BHA robust in pursuing this case. However, I would like to see recognition of the wider responsibility for the root causes of these affairs. Races worth £1,700 simply don’t pay the bills. The Horsemen’s Group has it right, recommending a tariff for races. Owners should withdraw their support if those values are not met.

Racetracks enjoy a bookmaker funded bonanza with the new picture-rights deals. They should not be encouraged to feed us a diet of poor-quality, low-prize-money affairs. Such events, often riddled with gambles, are counter-productive in levy terms. Racing is funded by the betting cake and condoning the
current set-up is to accept less levy. Quality and quantity. Precious little of the former; far too much of the latter.

UNIFORMITY’S NO FUN

I Struck up a conversation on course recently with a gentleman who came up to shake my hand and pass the time. What he had to say gave pause for thought. He was in his 50s, well turned out and evidently a long-time punter, the type of client we should be concerned with.

He said that the uniformity of odds on course tended to put him off having a bet these days. He used to frequent the betting ring and found it normal to see a wide variance of odds. Punting was fun, as indeed it should be. Part of the sport was grabbing the best odds and, of course, everyone offered the same place terms, so that wasn’t an issue.

While the best value for the punting dollar remains on course, competing with exchanges has become uniform practice. Certain short-sighted layers may have persuaded the Levy Board that was the route we should take, but in fiscal and service terms it has been a mistake.

Originally featured in The Racing Post Sunday, January 23, 2011