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Bookmaking…… It’s Not What It Used To Be

They say if you enjoy your work, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well it’s not very often I’ve thought of going to the races as work – the odd hailstone filled winter day excluded.

But lately I think I’ve been enjoying it even more andI’ve been trying to think as to why that is.

I think I know….

Firstly, it’s a day away from the online business. Don’t get me wrong I love having a betting website is something my brother and I have built after the despair of being unable to work during COVID and in my brothers case a want to get away from a life driven by relying on betting exchange profitability as his sole income. It’s something we’re proud of, something tangible that we’ve built. We now provide employment to over twenty people but perhaps the most telling part about that employment is that half of them work in compliance.

And that’s the thing, online bookmaking isn’t really bookmaking, we try and do it differently to the big firms. After all we’re born from the betting ring and the ethos of on-course values on-line runs central to the way we operate. Some of the ways we do that is by allowing a decent bet and adding some nuance to that compliance, all whilst staying within the conditions of our licence. I’ll save the detail for another blog but for example, it’s hoped our team will know that you’re likely to increase your bets during Cheltenham week.

If you’re not careful online bookmaking can feel like you just happen to have a website that sells bets as a product rather than say, shoes or any other product for that matter. We’re conscious to not let that happen but it can, and you can trust me when I say that being at a race meeting is a lot more exciting than being in a compliance meeting.

Secondly, and say it quietly but I think the betting ring is having a resurgence of sorts. Not all my oncourse colleagues will agree with me here, and I guess it depends on which metrics you use.

My ticket count is down, this would be a Key Performance Indicator (see I’ve even learnt business speak since going online) but not the only one. The number of bets you take at a given meeting is obviously vital. It’ll help protect against that dreaded variance and in theory allow you to make a proper ‘book.’

But things change and I don’t think making a ‘proper book’ is the best way to do it anymore.

When I talk about making a proper book I guess you can take it a couple of ways.

The first one I have in mind is to have the front of the market as your loser, the bigger the price the more you win.

The second would be to bet ‘overs’ or in modern parlance ‘go green.’ This would be when you have no liabilities – the art of bookmaking you might say, you win whatever wins, the difference is that the skills required to make a book like that have now been replaced by a button that hedges into the exchanges and levels your profit across the field book.

These traditional bookmaking methods made sense when there was little confidence in the prices. Going back in time when you laid an even money chance you didn’t really know if it had a 50% probability of winning. Punters weren’t as informed as they are today, proform didn’t exist, no-one had heard of speed ratings but bigger than that, the market hadn’t been open for nearly 24 hours where every inch of information has had time to filter in.

So it made sense to go careful, make a book and rely on a profit whatever wins to negate a lack of confidence in true probabilities.

These days the exchanges exist, the Betfair SP is seen as close to possible as the most accurate barometer for the true chance of horse at the off.

What I now try and do is to lay horses, not make a book. I’m confident in my pricing on course. When I’m at the racetrack, I have the luxury of only pricing up half hour before each race into a mature market and the good news for me at least is that the big punters seem to be returning to the racecourse betting rings.

Just this last week at bath I took one five and one eight grand bet in the same evening. Recent Worcester trips have seen me take more individual grand and two grand bets than in perhaps a whole 6 months pre-covid and to me, that’s where the resurgence has come from.

It wouldn’t be hard to guess why these bigger punters are re-appearing on-course but they’re welcome. It is from them that I see the on course uplift, as fragile as that might be.

After all, the traditional bookmaking methods won’t throw up the ups and downs that will come in this way of operating, but let’s face it they’re pretty boring in the modern form when you’re hedging with an exchange. I don’t think they’re profit maximising either, ok if your only going to take one big bet then it might be better to reduce your liabilities but the more of them you take the better it will be long term to stand them.

The say that “only thing that’s constant is change” and as racecourse bookmakers we’re don’t have great form for adopting change quickly. But the big punters are back on track and I for one think it’s time to capitalise.

Perhaps, the games not dead just yet…

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