If there’s one bone of contention regarding on-course bookmakers, it’s their place terms in handicap races between 16 and 21 runners. There was a short period when on-course layers could set their own place terms. This proved to be a big mistake when, some would say disgraceful, a minority of on course firms chose to bet very unfairly on their places. This situation was exacerbated when they were doing so on busy days when novice punters were generally just looking at prices and not terms. There was an understandable backlash, not least from other layers, which resulted in ‘Standardised Terms’ firstly from Jockey Club Racecourses, then soon after adopted by them all.
The standard place terms mirrored all the existing industry off-course ones except one anomaly. On-course bookmakers were allowed the concession to bet 1/5 the odds in handicaps of 16-21 runners where off-course bets would be settled at 1/4. This seemed very strange at the time but racecourse bookmakers largely welcomed it. Their margins having been squeezed in recent years ensured that betting the way they had, each-way betting in the types of races concerned would almost certainly be mathematically over-broke on the place book.
In addition, those that didn’t agree with those terms could still take one for the team and bet to standard off-course terms of 1/4, so providing healthy competition.
When I interviewed Dickon White of Jockey Club Racecourses for a #BettingPeople interview last year https://www.starsportsbet.co.uk/interview-dickon-white/ and asked him why the anomaly had been allowed he answered; ‘We had some fairly lengthy debates about that with the bookmaker representatives, they felt very strongly that this was the right decision that they should be betting to that fraction, in the end that was what we agreed to’.
I have no idea who the ‘bookie representatives’ were in those discussions but in my opinion they made the wrong decision. Of course, the majority of on-course layers do take advantage of those place terms when confronted with those races. They do bet to very tight margins and most don’t see the need to give further concessions to punters who have already never had it so good, like it or not, a concession it is betting to 1/4 on course.
They have never had it so good because of the on-course market’s seemingly unshakable reliance on following ‘the machine’. The punters have never had it so good because despite the perils of betting over-broke each-way the betting ring still follows the exchanges win market when pricing up hideously bad each-way handicaps, did I mention never had it so good?
The layers that do bet 1/4 on course often like to trumpet the fact that they are doing so, there are very loud voices on social media, but of course if you do that math they’ve priced up accordingly and are rarely offering better value because the 1/4 has been factored in. I hasten to add, in the right and proper manner. On-course bookmakers have a hard-enough job winning as it is without making themselves second-favourite to win on a race they’ve paid handsomely to bet on.
Like I said, I have no idea who the bookmaker’s representatives were that Dickon White and team had lengthy discussions with. I beg to proffer that they made a rick. They should have compelled on-course bookmakers to bet each-way and to a quarter the odds on the contentious races. This is probably the point where punters are cheering and on-course bookies start muttering ‘what a stupid idea, who does he think he is’ etc. For starters, the punters shouldn’t be cheering, they’d almost certainly be worse off for that decision, should it ever be implemented.
Bookmakers would be forced to revaluate how they bet on 16-21 runner handicaps when staring a completely red place book in the face. They might have to start betting to a margin that wouldn’t be total financial tomfoolery. If the compulsion to follow ‘the machine’ was too much, I’m guessing they’d start using the Betfair or Betdaq place books as their win book price guide. Whichever way they decided to do it, the punters would be worse off. 1.01.
Don’t panic though those of the latter ilk, the odds of bookmakers agreeing to anything, especially regarding each-way better, significantly higher.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring