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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Douvan – or not Tourun

We’ve somehow come to expect as normal the practice of avoidance in racing. Potentially the sport’s biggest star will sit out this week’s Tingle Creek. Not because of ground concerns, low sun, or an eclipse of Jupiter’s 3rd moon. Quite simply there are other opportunities for the horse and a clash with Un De Slow doesn’t appeal to Willie Mullins. Willie simply doesn’t race his best stock against each other. Period.

Now, when I scream the place down about said policy, I’m met with three responses. The sheep say nothing. There are those that have made money backing Willie’s charges who will hear no wrong because he’s lined their pockets. And there are those who fundamentally disagree with this trio of self-serving individuals.

Namely Mullins, Ricci, and Walsh.

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Of course, nobody should be surprised at Rich Ricci. The flamboyant banker who’s trousered a great deal of our money, now sees a cheap opportunity to dominate a sport. And for him it is pennies. On ATR’s excellent ‘on the line’ show – Chapman gently chided Ricci on his tactics. Douvan and the Gold Cup was briefly discussed. You could see Rich visibly wincing at the prospect of risking his star against the likes of Thistlecrack.

Let’s fairly the blame for racing’s issues with top races not fulfilling their potential squarely at the foot of these men. Fine Mullins can train, Walsh can ride, Rich can bank the odd cheque. Those of you thinking they’re heroes for delivering us such quality animals, consider this. Were the likes of Douvan, Annie Power, Faugheen, Arctic Fire or the ill fated Vautour owned by differing persons, as opposed to the hands of one man, would we be more or less likely to see at least three of these performers in the one race – the Champion Hurdle, where they clearly should be competing? Did the trio not pull out Vautour from his intended target, claiming he hadn’t worked sufficiently well, yet to place him in the far lesser Ryanair to provide yet another opportunity for the lads to stand on the podium?

I note Ricci persuaded his own betting company to refund Vautour gold cup backers, after he maintained GC was the no 1 target. Those who wagered with other companies appeared less lucky. Perhaps Rich you should refund them?

Imagine you were an owner targeting your mildly lesser animal for the Mares race and Annie Power turns up, or Vautour in the Ryanair. How are such important sponsors of the sport advantaged, encouraged? Would you expect to face the Champion Hurdler elect? It’s time for Cheltenham to impose a ceiling in ratings on the participation of certain horses in such events, for the sake of those essential smaller owners, and yes competitiveness.

Who recalls Ruby Walsh’s indignant stance on Channel 4 when I dared to criticise the policy on Quevega, and her participation in a race several grades below her potential. A grade one winning mare running in the lowest rated race. A sham and no mistake.

Cast your mind back just a few years. If Paul Nicholls were to adopt similar policy, we would never have been treated to Neptune Collonges vs Kuato Star vs Denman so many times. It simply would not have happened

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If the leading jump owner of our generation, the amiable and shy JP MacManus, adopted said policy, many races over a decade would have been trashed. To be fair a great deal of racing’s top owners, Sheikh Mohammed, Abdullah, Magnier, and O Leary have provided exactly that- competition. They race their horses in the grade appropriate to their ability.

If Lewis Hamilton dropped to Formula 3, or Andy Murray to the challenge tour, surely you’d think that odd? If you bought a ticket to see Manchester United and Alex Ferguson declared they could only play Liverpool in the cup final, refused to play anyone but Scunthorpe and kept Giggs and Cantona on the bench-  would you not have been angered by his lack of ambition?

For these reasons, the denial to the sport from this trio of racing their best in the correct race or grade has to be criticised, and often. I’m thoroughly tired of those fawning to individuals so bent on self at the expense of the sport. Douvan will head to Cork in a meaningless exercise. Once again the regulator(s) are failing the sport in allowing promotion seeking owners to work the system. No grade 1 horse should be permitted in such lesser grades. It weakens the fabric of ownership, competitiveness and betting turnover.

When I read of Ruby Walsh, a genius in the saddle, but sour as a lemon out, telling bookmakers what nonsense it is to offer Douvan at 5/1 for the Tingle Creek,  I genuinely wonder if he realises just what a giant hypocrite he is. One of the architects of avoidance in the sport. Part of the problem, telling us we’re fools because we can’t second guess his team. He’ll jump off Douvan to ride Un De Sceaux, by the way.

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The solution is to tell Ruby Walsh to do his talking in the saddle.

Incidentally, if you had £20 on Douvan at 5/1 to win the Tingle Creek – you’d lose £20. His next outing will be at 1/8 odds at Cork. If you joined the gamble, to whatever level, you’ve lost your money. And the blame for that lies squarely at the door of Mullins. He declared the horse right up to the last hour.If you backed Un De Sceaux at 4/1, I fancy you’re kissing Willie’s backside.

If you bought a ticket at Sandown expecting to see one of these great stars turn up, you’re likely disappointed. I welcome the decision of Michael O Leary to remove his team from WM, it can only serve racing. Fans mean less to this trio than a podium in March, and it’s time to call them out, not apologise for, tactics so damaging to the sport.

Don’t forget to gamble responsibly..

Watching the Oikball the other night, sitting next to my Sons, I observed West Ham sporting their snappy outfits pressed and laundered by Betway. Newcastle were sponsored by those nice people that lend money – Wonga. The stadia was adorned with Betway bunting. The adverts during the game were predominately sponsored by companies claiming their users ‘gambled responsibly’ – Especially Ray Winstone, who I doubt has had a tenner on anything in his life. But it’s great viewing for children. Honestly

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If you like to watch sport, you’ll get used to this. If you like your late night telly – you know – stop camera action from the police force in Reading, the best looking penis, or shows about cars with fabulous emission ratings, you’ll also have become used to proliferation of gambling adverts. Some of whom sound almost heroic.
Of course we’re encouraged to ‘gamble responsibly’ by the yellow sign that tells us all (subliminaly) that when we’ve had enough FUN FUN FUN – we must learn to stop.
In other words, when you’ve run out of cash, maxed out every credit card you’ve got, kicked the fruit machine to bits, mortgaged your home to the hilt, turned your Missus into a Lesbian, and of course made the BBC documentary on ‘Britain At The Bookies’ – the home for all genuine sad acts, – then you’ll have truly arrived in the worlds of Bet365 and William Hill
If you’re in the minority, like me, the Mary Whitehouse types, you might pause for a moment and wonder what effect this siege of advertising has on our phsyche- not to mention those of our children. I mean we stop cigarette adverts, so why is it permissable that EVERY ad break tells us we have to spin to win? And sometimes more than once a break?

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And of course, as every independent bookmaker and decent minded citizen knows- The UK’s ‘watchdog’ – the Gambling Commission, with all its fees and hype – does absolutely nothing. Nothing at all, to justify its very existence. ‘To protect the vulnerable.’

The ‘vulnerable’in this case appear to be online gaming giants

Little known- but worth mentioning, back in April I challenged Paddy Power on promotions headlined with the banner ‘money back’ on certain wagers. This was a headline grabber and peddled widely in the press. I invited them to desist from encouraging customers to wager under the entirely false assumption certain stakes would be refunded, when in actuality the customers were being refunded in ‘free bet stakes’. Of course the two are entirely different offers

Paddy Power declined to remove promotions with said headlines.

I challenged this with the ASA as misleading and wholly false. The challenge was upheld and they were ordered by the authority to cease free bet promotions with the headlines money back.

Paddy Power were not alone – Many firms were doing exactly the same, and in direct contravention to an earlier ASA ruling against Betfair for the same type of claims. These firms were directly contravening an earlier ruling

The question is this. Why did the Gambling Commission, the custodian of fair gambling and the vulnerable, not step in at any stage to order such promotions to be withdrawn? Is this agency actively complicit in protecting such firms from basic licensing conditions? Were said firms not in fact contravening several codes in licensing practices with such claims?

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I think I’m a fair minded bookie. I try to give my customers a better class of service and compete on odds with the high street. And as a bookie you might expect me to side with my own. I mean I do have a gambling site. But I don’t bombard people with adverts at 2am about it, and if I were to shove it on my occasional trips to Channel 4, where I upset the establishment for your viewing entertainment, I’d get my backside kicked off pronto.
I’m deeply uncomfortable with what goes on. I feel for those who are suffering. I favour a UK wide ban on anyone who self excludes – not backed by the Gambling Commission. I disagree with the use of credit cards to fund gambling. I disagree with Gibraltar outfits shoving their ‘online’ products to Racing. Although I scoff at the BHA’s lack of backbone in any department, all sound bytes.
I hear a lot of complaints from punters, some of whom could accurately be described as ‘bonus junkies.’ The new breed of professionals who scour the bookie websites for top of the market hits. I have some sympathy with the bookie view that a lot of those types of customer are worthless to us in business.
BUT. If Paddy Power are to offer even money each of two in a Rugby match, with just the outside chance of a handicap ‘tie’ to save them, if Skybet are to offer a loss leading 6 places on the Cambridgeshire, if Coral are to offer 6/1 each of 2 in a tennis match to new customers only – and all of them make money, then I know they’re not getting fat on those sports, especially the increasingly worthless racing product.
So they’re fattening on gaming. – NAP

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Bet365 seem totally content to treat their customers with err, uhm contempt, by offering a customer, their customers, a £1 wager. They don’t care about the PR implications of being described by the same as ‘total frauds’ for describing themselves as ‘Bookmakers.’ Because they’re global. And for every clued up punter they treat so poorly over here, there are perhaps 5% of these new accounts they dig up that make the whole exercise of pushing for new business worthwhile. And deeply profitable. One can admire their bottom line, if not their methodology
Should we feel sympathy for those professional types who complain so vociferously? Clearly we care about the genuine punters who fluke a 16/1 winner and find their next wager batted down to 36p. But the pros?
For myself, I never keep a customer on if I’m not prepared to lay him or her a bet to lose at least £50 as a minimum, and remember that’s my minimum, not the average of what we’re prepared to lay. But that’s because I have standards. I may not like what some customers get up to, but if I do, I close them down with a fair explanation of why it’s been done. We do not hide behind ‘trading decisions’
But the big companies are the ones peddling the prices and offers. They’re continuously driving for new gaming custom and fully prepared to be ‘best odds guaranteed’ or ‘best prices for all Channel 4 races’ – even if it guarantees a loss. It’s a bit like the supermarkets claiming they make nothing from milk, because they choose to sell it so cheap to get the customers into the stores in the first place. They don’t care if the dairy farmer ends up out of business.

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These ‘companies’ have created the bonus and offer culture. The free bet. I heard recently Coral offering a guarantee to lay any horse to lose a decent amount, I’m uncertain if it was Coral’s diminutive UK division or their Gibraltar arm making the offer, because its hardly clear who you’re wagering with when you call up ‘Coral.co.uk’ . They’re not prepared to offer it online, nor even on their phones. Once again a headling grabbing offer that turns out not quite as good as it sounds. But in a way I support any move towards a sensible lay to lose – I’ve always advocated £100 as a startpoint. Coral stand alone in proferring any sort of guarantee to date, even if it’s only in their shops.
But they’re a multi million pound outfit, still un prepared to offer their advertised odds to all of their customers. A bit like Waitrose saying it’s 50p for that Cadbury’s flake, but not to everyone. Isn’t this sort of thing a trading standards issue? And of course pretty much all of the other outfits are exactly the same. Complaints litter about what they don’t do, far more than what they do. Now why is that?
So the next time you think about grabbing yourself a ‘free bet’ for a tenner. Ponder awhile. If you can afford not to support firms who behave with such overall disdain for large sections of their customers, why would you support them with your business? If you want change, you have to be prepared to boycott those firms you consider place little real value on loyalty.
And should they be mandated, as they are in parts of Australia, to lay a fair bet to any price they offer?
Well the Gambling Commission don’t agree with you, but I most certainly do.

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TROUBLE GETTING A BET ON HORSES? HERE’S WHY

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Not easy getting a bet on horses these days. You hear it everywhere. Forums, papers even telly. Bookmakers roundly criticised for offering inflated odds on horses, then laying them to derisory amounts. It rather sticks in my throat to be in any way associated to such behaviour. I mean I came from a father who epitomised fearless in laying – often standing in the back lines at tracks he would dominate the far more cautious firms at the front. I took over that business some 20 years ago now, and I’ve tried to distance myself from restrictions and £10 bets. But this isn’t about me. Is the criticism levelled at modern day bookies justified? If you’ll indulge, I shall try to put this difficult subject into context.

Bear in mind there are broadly 3 different arms of the industry involved here. Exchanges, large bookmaking ‘chains’, and independents.

One of the things that strikes me about the complaints is they’re rarely levelled at exchanges. To my mind they’ve always been the smart ones. By investing heavily in marketing and advertising, you sanitise your product from some of the more important critics, such as journalists. Don’t bite the hand that feeds, even if it lives under a rock. Yet they often claim the moral high ground. Good job there lads.

You see, the deal with exchanges is simple. First off most punters are small, and don’t wager more than £20 in a bet. Second, it’s accepted you can’t get a place bet on the same. I don’t see an exchange offering an each way bet. Third, not easy to blame the exchange for what is often pitiful liquidity levels, when you’re supposed to pony up and add to the ‘lays column’ is it? That aside, the effect of exchanges on British Racing margins cannot be overstated. Obscenely they govern the on course bookmakers, many of whom have turned into arbers, playing exchange odds off against what punters will take. Low liquidity is ridiculously easy to manipulate. If you’re trying to get 10 – 20 thousand or more on a horse,  simply feed in a relative low amount into the lay side and watch it drift as bots and the ill-informed react. Alternatively, pick a random ‘gambling stables’ no hope 33/1 chance, pop a grand or two on it and watch it collapse to 9/2. In the meantime, you’re favoured selection drift from evens to 2/1. Your 20 grand profit becomes 40, for an investment of 1. It’s a childishly simple example. Surely it’s not that easy you say? Oh but it is. Plus if you have the second in the market ‘squared away’, in knowledge or integrity terms, you’re flying.

It’s not just the track which obeys the pennies on exchanges these days. It’s the off track ‘odds compilers’ at the large bookmaking chains. And here’s their sub plot. Go onto LinkedIn, type in ‘Corals’ or ‘William Hill’ and you’ll be met by picture after picture of guys in their 20’s – fresh faced out of school, describing themselves as ‘traders’ or ‘odds compilers’. It’s a grand term, or used to be.

In my time, such individuals would spend years working hefty on course markets, working figures and percentages. Or perhaps work their way into the trading room after due time in the trenches answering phones. But in an environment which puts so much stock in exchange movements, all these spotties really do these days is monitor the price movements on their screens and shave their odds appropriately. Same as most racecourse clerks do. Neither group are particularly skilled. I accept some may have an inflated view of their abilities. That comes with youth. In this game, experience counts for everything and they bring little of that to the table. Policies such as these have led to large concerns being assaulted by a new two new breeds of punter. Arbers – very much the same as many track bookies, and those putting ‘job’ monies on for the connected. Both groups, in a world of odds which are more often than not both unrealistic and manipulated, are extremely difficult to beat. As a consequence they’re restricted. By extension this has a knock on effect for the less ‘professional punter’. An accident of circumstances I suppose.

Similarly if you spend your time following certain tipping lines, backing shorteners, betting mainly on the inflated morning odds markets, backing each way when the favourite is odds on or happening to back the same selections as per say Patrick Veitch, you’ll find your half-life as a punter with such firms shortened dramatically, along with what you can get on.

It’s also important to understand the world of Ralph Topping. In his time, boardmarker to boss, he’s witnessed William Hill turn from a traditional bookmaker to a casino operator. This is a key point. Let’s call a spade a spade here – were I king Ralph, as things stand, I’d do exactly the same as he’s doing. You see the oil in the machine is precisely that. The machines. Large chains have engorged themselves on legislation permitting them to site shops anywhere and that growth remains unchecked. Witness the recent case in London against Paddy Power, brought by a Newham Council who argued they had piles of shops already in the region and that the shops were merely a vehicle for their Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. FOBTs. The case was quashed on the grounds there’s no law against serial proliferation of betting shops. Let me be honest here, Newham was right in my opinion. They didn’t need the shop, nor its machines. This situation is true in many of our towns. But Paddy won the day, arguing they made a ‘positive contribution to High Streets’. Of course that’s nonsensical hyperbole. Essentially though Newham hadn’t proved their argument and were kicked out. Each FOBT generates a gross profit of circa £900 a week for such firms – and they can have 4 in every shop. That’s £3600 in gross profit a week. Add in a ‘manager’ who gives out the change, a cashier, and a rolling ‘relief manager’ and you’ve a very low staff cost, maintenance and risk business. Providing that is you don’t get too involved in the poor margin horse racing product.

This is where leaders such as Paul Bittar are so blinkered in their view that more racing equals more levy. A childishly simple claim, and one with no data to support it. The reality is quite the opposite. A punter has a fixed amount to spend. More racing won’t make him draw out more money. The machines claw for his cash, and they’re clearly addictive. When the racing is competitive, it becomes the draw.If it’s low grade 5 runner races on offer, they become the background rather than the vehicle that pulls people into the shop to start with. The BHA is far too tight in with the bookmaking-exchange fraternity to be healthy. Ostriches see a little more. Am I a little unfair to the new Chief Exec? I don’t believe so. Within a month of his arrival he had thrown his hat into the ring with big business and declared 1450 as the right ‘level’ for Racing. Was that an informed decision based on hard data he hadn’t been provided with by the way, or just towing the establishment line? I’ll let you decide on that one. There isn’t a third option, except for the PR merchants from the chains.

I haven’t mentioned the casino side of most modern day bookmaker or exchange businesses. These super profitable products yield enormous profits. Why focus your attention on the 4.05 at Plumpton and the risks involved, when you can push your customers to bet on the areas of your business you absolutely know represent a no-lose situation. To boot there’s been a substantial market share war going on between the large concerns over the last 3 years. It’s routine for the morning price market for a feature race on a Saturday to be actually overbroke between the majors. The King George at Ascot ran to 89% at best odds available. This represents a net loss to racing of 11% in real terms. Will such top of the market offers make it more likely you’ll get your £100 each way wager? Evidently not.

Of course the whole margin debate is pretty much a nonsense these days, except perhaps for Bruce Millington who majors on the 9.30 at Wolverhampton. So many horses effectively priced out of events; we never saw horses going off at 400/1 in the sixties and seventies. One of the major issues affecting the laying of bets is the integrity of the sport. The bottom line is, the lower the prize fund available, the more likely the integrity of the event will be affected. The great scandals in racing of late can be directly attributed to serial failures at the BHA who should insist on a strong, well-funded and staffed integrity division. In fact in a period where there’s more racing than ever before, the integrity division at the BHA has had its budgets slashed. Being kind it’s poor management, but I lean towards a dereliction of their responsibilities to police the sport. The key phrase ‘shut the stable door after the horse has bolted’ wouldn’t be out of place here. All the spin in the world from Mr Bittar cannot hide the fact it’s grossly understaffed and most certainly lacking in the experience necessary to break down the vital betting markets. In fact, in a bizarre twist of fate, it’s Betfair who highlight most of the scandals perpetrated on its own exchange, but then only when amounts are excessive. Hong Kong has 238 people tasked with maintaining the integrity of its programme, which races 6 days a month. Here with 1450 fixtures we have less than 20 including those running around testing horses and the like. The numbers don’t stack up. It’s time to get proper with integrity, and not just when Channel 4 ask the questions on doping. Non-triers and ‘explosive last to first’ gambles have become the accepted norm. Why? How does it affect your punting dollar? Will it be easier or fairer to bet when people in the industry don’t trust the ‘lesser’ events?

One smaller factor to consider is the time delay. On course traders react swiftly to volatile exchanges in proffering odds. However, the actual shows fed into betting shops will reflect those movements by anything between 1-2 minutes later, and may be made up by some trader betting to a sixth of the odds on the place book. This creates a clear arbing situation of betting shows vs exchange odds. Don’t forget the modern day punter is armed with super fast broadband links to exchanges – they know the reality and can gain significant advantage over the bookmaker in the High Street.

How do these points relate to how much you can get on? Well you have to understand what you’re betting on; racing is up against the other products a bookie is offering. Sure if you do your nuts you can call your own tune with any bookie. That’s obvious. But if they don’t know you – and you just have a lucky run? Well I’m afraid the outlook is dim.

Let’s encapsulate racing in this simple equation:

Exchange – On Course Traders – Delayed shows to LBO’s + Glut of Racing = Low margin out of date product open to serial manipulation v Fixed Odds Betting Terminals and casino products.

The last cog in the wheel are the independents. They’re either shop based, or running telephone and internet operations such as my own at geoff-banks.com. Many do not possess the vital casino products, nor are they able to operate relief manager situations to rotate their staffing and keep costs down. They shoulder increased share of costs such as taxation and Gambling Commission fees and they’re competing with offshore low cost firms to boot. Smaller firms tend to rely much more heavily on their racing product. As a result they’re struggling to remain competitive with set down by firms who are reluctant to lay much more than an egg at those paper odds. Does it really matter if they survive, any more than does it matter if the on course market does? I’ve heard the argument for natural selection in business. And I fundamentally disagree. In my view, it’s an unhealthy situation. Big business is getting bigger, they’re paying less taxes than small business and most certainly giving a vastly inferior standard of service. Who hasn’t sat on a phone line to speak to a world weary operator with little training or the ability affect change to improve the lot of the customer they are serving?

Decisions are made at boardroom level by ‘executives’ who won’t have to sit waiting to be served by the individuals they employ. They’re in no way into ‘customer facing’ or ‘customer focussed’ initiatives. They’re about money.

The internet has most certainly improved many areas of our lives. But unchecked it spells the death knell for many businesses we used to take for granted which are the very fabric of the decent society we grew up in. I’m one of life’s survivors – I lay a fair bet. My boys answer a call within two rings, or answer a textbet within a minute. But businesses like my own are in the minority. The bottom line is: the larger the firm, the worse its service standards. But they’re cheap. They offer deals and money back offers and price guarantees.

If you want real change in the service you receive, including how much you get on – you have to accept such standards involve you being prepared to take slightly less in return for a more civil way to bet. It’s a choice. Want an exchange price? Accept it’s only going to be to their stakes. Not a lot these days.

Ryanair aren’t British Airways, and they treat their customers with a disdain that’s breathtaking. But they’re cheap. They lead on low cost travel without frills or service standards or conduct codes respected by rivals. So are Paddy Power, Bet365 and William Hill. If you believe in SP guarantees, money back if your horse falls and so forth, all well and good and they will happily accommodate you to lower stakes. It’s simple, you cannot offer the top of everyone’s market and lay whoppers. So bet away with the offshores but expect to pay for it elsewhere.