There’s very little wrong with the current SP system. That’s a fact as far as I am concerned having worked as part of the team returning the prices and monitoring the on-market for almost a decade, February 2008 – February 2017. Recent enough to know.
The proposal to cast the on-course bookmakers into irrelevance by returning an industry rather than their SP would be catastrophic. The racecourse bookmakers provide an almost unique character to racing over here. Whilst we are in the grip of pandemic necessary restrictions there is no option but to provide an artificial SP to keep the show on the road, but any attempt to try and make it the norm must be fought tooth and nail.
At present racecourse bookmakers are already struggling against the tide of an increasing cashless society, the changing betting habits of a younger generation. This is in addition to a persistent attempt to demonise betting, a pastime previous enjoyed and socially accepted for centuries. Bookies are often seen as a hindrance rather than asset. Racecourses are doing their best to squeeze them out with their own cuckoo ‘pitches’ popping up in the best positions. That in addition to rising expenses and lower turnover is making life very tough for layers.
The best promotion they get is when the TV broadcast from the thick of it, Matt Chapman ribbing Pinno about his shirt and giving a hapless layer the rubdown after the best-backed horse of the day obliges is great TV. Seeing the ring, the characters and colours within makes people at home comfortable about entering it when they come racing. Sadly missed John McCririck pioneered bringing the ring into people’s homes, his contribution should never be underestimated.
Whilst AGT have been busy during lockdown searching out cashless alternative and plenty of racecourse bookmakers are pushing forward all the time with innovative ideas, it’s also true that some have been their own worst enemies. There is very little to recommend the ring when its inhabitants are dressed as if they’d just put out the bins. There they are, sullen faced and slouched over a borrowed joint their name scrawled on a hastily stuck on piece of paper over its original owner’s name. How about the return of a bit of pride and putting on a show?
If the unthinkable happens and the SP ceases to be racecourse centric it’s very doubtful terrestrial TV will see fit to dispatch someone to report from the betting ring. There will no nationwide spotlight that it exists, ultimately it will wither on the vine. It won’t be overnight, but as the years pass by, those that visit the betting ring habitually will cease to be with us. That ‘new blood’ that come to the races at weekends and festivals will increasing see the racecourse bookies as an archaic throwback, nothing to offer them as they bet on their mobiles.
Short-sighted racecourses will initially see the dwindling ranks of bookmakers as an opportunity to install more of their cuckoo pitches but will suffer the same fate. The real danger is that ultimately the ring will dwindle and die.
I hope that racecourse bookmakers’ associations are working together and are already lobbying for assurance that the traditional SP’s will return as soon as bookmakers and punters once again are in the position to form a market on-course. The market which is consistently fair, workable and where transparent returns are made.
This is the most important fight in the history of on-course bookmakers and one they simply must win.
When they do, it will hopefully wake racing and racecourses up to what is a huge asset to racing, let’s see those marketing fees used to promote the betting ring, racecourses support bookmakers not attempt to undermine them at every opportunity and most importantly bookmakers starting to work together to promote themselves too.
A healthy and thriving betting ring is sustainable and worth fighting for, not least because it is the beating heart of a racecourse, so the alternative is unthinkable, and one to which we are teetering on the brink.
Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring