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Understandably there’s been a lot of talk in recent months about account restrictions, affordability checks and the future of the gambling environment in the UK and Ireland.
Given the funding model of UK racing, a lot of this talk has been followed by questions about the future of the levy, how to maximise levy funding, whether prize money can keep up with inflation and/or why the UK lags behind many other top tier racing nations on the prize money front.
Australia’s racing industry appears to be in great shape currently with various pop up races like The Everest, Golden Eagle and Big Dance all attracting sizeable amounts of prize money.
The introduction of Minimum Bet Laws (MBL’s) have undoubtedly had a huge effect on Australian racing and those who punt domestically in Australia.
However it’s worth noting that these vary from state to state and there are regulations on these, also that they apply to companies who’s annual turnover is over $5mn.
Assuming companies meet the standard requirements they aren’t allowed to refuse a fixed odds bet, close an account, refuse to open an account, place restrictions on an account, refuse to lay a fixed odds bet when those odds are publicly displayed, lay lesser odds to a person than those publically available, take action in order to avoid those provisions.
The above are a rough guide as to what is expected from operators in Queensland and ACT.
While the MBL’s differ in New South Wales they are broadly the same with the exception them applying to lose a minimum $2,000 win (and $800 place) on metropolitan New South Wales thoroughbred races and to lose $1,000 win (and $400 place) on non-metropolitan New South Wales thoroughbred races.
There are other smaller variances for different events and meetings etc. while Victoria, the other major racing state and home of the Melbourne Cup have similar metro and non-metro lay to lose limits.
Such limits used to only exist from the day of race with different times depending on when race meetings started, later in the day for evening meetings and the morning of the race for afternoon fixtures.
This has now been extended to when bookmakers first display prices and it’s a credit to the industry in Australia that bookmakers have such faith in the integrity of the product that they are willing to bet 12 runner races to circa 1.25% a runner 2.5 days before a race is due off.
Those who want to push a MBL situation for the UK and/or Ireland seem to forget that we have 48 hour decs for most racing these days with prices often available more than 24 hours in advance.
The markets as seen by anyone who uses odds comparison sites etc. are particularly volatile the day before a race and, as others directly involved in pricing and trading such races have pointed out, any law that forces firms to lay the early prices to a certain level to all punters is likely to lead to a worse situation for the majority of punters than is currently the case.
There could be any number of reasons for this, some will no doubt say it’s because the compilers aren’t good at their jobs which is something I find hard to believe, others will say the firms are scared of risk which is possible.
The poor prize money relative in this instance to Australia won’t help and as we’ve seen recently with the Maike Magnussen horses gambled at Limerick recently there are still going to be trainers who like to line one up for a touch so to speak.
While the Magnussen horses cut little ice in the end they are far from being the only example of a trainer attempting to land a gamble with big priced runners in races with limited prize money.
That such MBL laws (assuming they follow the Australia model) would likely lead to firms having to lay bets to take out roughly a quarter or half the total prize money of a race is likely to lead to them taking evasive action on the pricing and risk front.
While I admire those who want a strong betting market for racing and view any MBL as leading to an increase in turnover for firms, an increase in profit and thus an increase in levy and prize money I think that it would be naïve to assume all this will come without a more inquisitive approach to stewarding.
Australian stewards regularly ask questions of riders with regards to tactics and race riding, whether that’s due to a horse being caught wide, being blocked for a run or being held up when it’s normally run from the front but there seems to be little of that in the UK with any question from the stewards automatically being seen as a criticism of a jockey or connections.
With regard to the future the sport of racing is seeing its share of the betting market decline and while that definitely needs addressing it’s not hard to see a worst case scenario where racing betting sites are only pricing up races two hours before the race, or worse still offering prices off the show if unable to restrict unprofitable clients.
My own experience of working in the trading is possibly now somewhat outdated given I’ve been out of the inner sanctum so to speak for four or so years but it’s not unfair to say it was virtually impossible to lay some horses in certain races during the winter, there’s no market for them regardless of what price you go and I’ve seen and heard nothing from friends in the industry in recent times to think much has changed.
The above may seem like scare-mongering but I feel I should point out that the current approach from all parties seems to be for more restrictions on gambling and not less.
Or if you want to look at it this way looking at ways to ensure people gamble less rather than gamble more with any MBL likely to see the restricted accounts (or those that aren’t restricted for responsible gambling reasons) able to get more on than is currently the case.
The government white paper on gambling and the petition that has been promoted by many across the industry has undoubtedly seen many consider what the future will look like for the industry but it’s important to realise that there is little appetite for the government to get too involved outside of the white paper and the BHA and co are likely to be left to their own devices with regards to the future of the sport.