Racing folk have moaned for years about how uncommercial racetracks are – ‘Run by old buffers’. Not anymore. The sharper ones are cashing in on every possible income stream. But bookmaker Geoff Banks has a warning for them, and for you. Geoff’s a regular guest blogger here. I admire his determination to try to stem the tide that threatens to wash away the track bookies, but I fear it will be a Canute job.
Don’t bother giving me your favourite – they’re weighed in
I thoroughly enjoy Ascot. Most of the time it’s bullet cheap to race, they do concerts, firework displays, fairground rides for the Bookies, countryside fayres and service standards, the best in the industry. Nothing’s on the cheap. Bath take a peek.
Now it includes Wifi. Wow, that’s great. Except when you login and my old Mucker King Ralph pops up waving at me from Gibraltar, just like the Racing Post Betting App. I spilled my champagne all over the oysters.
Forgetting the customers for just a second, what’s in it for the tracks? First off, it’s not a cheap investment. Putting in wifi will cost some six figures at a track like Ascot or York. You can’t just bang lots of repeaters in when there’s 40,000 souls involved. It has to be paid for. Now with apologies to some seriously bright track bosses who I routinely engage I’ll tell you what it’s for.
You see to a track, Betting is appealing. They may not be considering getting into laying horses or such, but if William Hill are going to pay them a portion of what’s turned over via their wifi to Gibraltar, then we have a new revenue stream. And Topping is no fool, he won’t overpay for the new custom. Forget what Rod Street has to say – ‘it’s a customer focussed initiative.’ That’s hyperbole, and I note with disappointment, another decision he made without consulting stakeholders. It’s about cash. No racetrack is reasonably going to invest in expensive Wifi if it wasn’t expecting something out of the deal.
Let’s deal with Rod’s take first. And I know he’s a racetrack man through and through. Is it about customers really? Will it drive footfall to the tracks – increase their customer experience? The short answer, maybe to the former – but the answer to the second is at the bottom of this read, for reasons I’ll outline. Rod knows it’s about money though. He knows everyone’s got 3g already and heading for 4g, and if they really wanted to book a table for dinner or post a picture to facebook from the track, then that works fine for that. When a customer thinks of Racing – will Wifi seal the deal on attendance when he’s got it already via his Apple? It won’t make any appreciable difference.
Now if you don’t care whether the humble Bookie turns up on course, and you feel the tracks can do well enough with their own Tote or in house betting, then read no further. Let’s not waste each other’s time.
Most of the people calling me a dinosaur with regards to this subject seem to base their arguments on value and betting. Their views revolve around going racing and achieving the best possible value for their punting dollar.
Except that they won’t (go racing) that is. Fellahs bent on achieving the top of the market in punting don’t get in their Austin Princess and drive 30 miles to Ascot. They sit at home in baseball caps on Orange screens and ‘green up’ or ‘cash out’
You’ve come this far. So I want you to picture a track without bookies. Here’s what it looks like.
Still going Racing? Hmm, I wonder if you really would? You see Bookmakers have been the very fabric of racecourses since they were built. Is it possible or desirable to go the whole hog with a ChesterBet type deal? (Don’t think that represents any value by the way at SP -10%! Turpin wouldn’t have faced the hangman if he’d invented RacecourseBet)
Ok, you’re a track boss, you really think you’re going to sell as many tickets if there’s no ring, or make as much from it as Bet365 might pay you for turnover? Anyone been to Kempton or Southwell, or for that matter Longchamp, excepting Arc day? They lack any appreciable atmosphere or flavour. People queue for a bet- then they queue longer to get paid. It’s not sexy. And I like rumpie-pumpie in my racing
So, to the humble Bookie, shivering in the ring. He’s invested in a pitch many thousands of pounds. He drives often scores of miles to work. Carries in heavy equipment, electronics. Pays support companies to keep him working, taxes and fees to the Gambling Commission. He’ll employ staff to service the customer, pay them out of the profit and their expenses. And finally he’ll hand over to the racetrack not only his entrance costs, but an expensive daily fee to bet and even a marketing fee someone dreamed up. All in all he’s looking at a ballpark minimum, including the startup cost of pitch and equipment of circa £600 a day. He can’t trade at the 103% book offered by someone sitting in his underpants at home with none of those costs to bear. Don’t weep. Seriously though, we all have to be prepared to pay a little extra for service and betting fun.
Yet oddly enough, the tracks now feel the Bookie should compete directly with underpants man. Not to mention King Ralph, and his lower cost-base technological kingdom. It’s thoroughly unrealistic. The little Bookmaker simply cannot withstand an assault from all directions whilst he shoulders the lions share of expenses.
Consider this. A track’s daily fees from Bookies far outweigh what Ladbrokes would pay for the rights to turnover from users on betting apps. And a home layer, fiddling around on Betfair, can now lay bets directly to the track’s customers via these super fast Wifi systems.
You’ve come this far- step the last mile with me. Modern day telephonics already afford a user all the social networking a customer requires. If he wants to post a picture of him and his girlfriend (or boyfriend) on Twitter holding his plastic cup – he can do it, no bother on his existing network. Experience proves however – its simply not fast enough to cope with Betting Apps or exchange business when there’s even 5000 users at a track. Data becomes treacle slow and I seriously doubt 4g will revolutionise the issue of ‘bandwidth’. It deals with speed of data. If there’s lots of folk on the internet, clogging up the mast, the system breaks down because the issue is the number of users sharing the line.
Hardly surprising, those screaming loudly in favour of Wifi, and calling me a T Rex, are frustrated they cannot go racing and fiddle about on Betfair. They foresee Wifi as speeding up that issue. And they’re right – it will.
But the Bookie standing in the ring – who’s paid for the ‘Right’ to bet through every pore in his body? Whilst the track finds one revenue source it didn’t have before, it will lose not only the fees it generates from the Ring – but the ring itself. It’s not the final nail of course, I’m not saying that, but were you running a little business on track, how much pressure from the internet, paying pennies to bet directly to customers floating about the track, do you think you could stand? What percentage of a track’s custom frequent the ring, view, or feel it adds a sense of British to their day?
My solution? Is one which satisfies customers, excepting those who expect betting permanently on the cheap. Block all access from racetracks from Wifi to betting sites. They’re not paying to bet to bettors at Ascot as other track stake holders do. That’s a key point. You simply cannot expect to reap harvest from Bookmakers or Betting shops and allow BetVictor those same privileges for nothing. Customers rights are unaffected, they can use their 3g anyway to post photos of pictures standing next to Rod Street and his nice new suit.
The answer to the improved customer experience question for a racetrack with little or no Betting Ring, is it a better experience than Longchamp?
You make the call.