Mark wonders how long the new £2,000 betting ceiling will last down the high street
Mark ponders over the new £2,000 betting ceiling
The Penzance Corals, just before mid-day. It’s a long way to come for those living upcountry, but this is as impressive a betting shop as you’re likely to find, open for around a year now. Well lit, spacious. Excellent information provision on big and smaller screens.
The machines tucked away against a far wall, as good a place as any for them, bar rusting in a skip in the back yard.Ask the manager about his firm’s newly introduced lay-to-lose guarantees. If I want a thick bet in a Class 4 event at Stratford, up to the £2,000 ceiling, will he have to phone it through before acceptance?
He shakes his head. Says he’ll accept it, as per the new rule, and not bother with the phones. This contradicts the instruction passed on the other morning by the manager of a London shop, who said she’d have to phone it in first, before laying it. Maybe it differs by location, just as the guarantees aren’t available to those betting online or via mobile.
A “very different business model” operates here, confirms spokesman David Stevens, as presumably it still does with the traditional telephone betting method, where you’ll struggle to get more than a fiver on once you’ve shown yourself capable of stringing a couple of winners together. (Online it will be closer to £1.68). Even in-shop, away from the imagined assassins with their algorithms, Corals can’t bring themselves to guarantee laying a horse to lose more than £500 in the lower grade events.
That’s a ceiling of £500-35 on a 14/1 shot, hardly the stuff of legend, though at least the manager gives the impression he’d know what the fractions are even if he couldn’t accept them.
You’re not guaranteed to get a penny on in Betfred or Ladbrokes over the road, though both shops are busier in this prelunch period. An effort has been made in each to upgrade against the recent imposter, though the Betfred retains a traditional seediness (perhaps deliberately).
Presumably one of the other shops will have to be sold when Ladbrokes and Corals complete their graceless merger and you wouldn’t want to be taking a short price about the guarantees abiding, for what they are worth. Pop back into the Corals later on, out of the mid-afternoon
mist. Identical weather conditions at Goodwood, where the big staying race is taking shape. It’s busier in here now, with two of the fixed odds terminals taken.
An intensely-focused punter gives Pallasator the office when it mounts a challenge on the Sussex Downs, though it isn’t long before anguish starts cutting through the vigour in his voice.
Big Orange is holding on under Jamie Spencer, for whom a volley of choice invective is reserved as he passes the line. The punter then makes an angry circular mark in his paper before turning to Stratford for the 3.20.
The commentator was buzzing up the market support for Red Hammer in here earlier on, though a quick glance at the paper indicated it had no business showing around the 3/1 mark. It’s 6/1 now, presumably much bigger on the exchanges. Finishes nowhere.
Through it all, the elderly man standing next to me has been muttering darkly about the result of a greyhound race recently concluded on the left-hand screen.Six won and presumably he didn’t.
Nobody has moved from the machines, nor gone to the counter for a bet. I haven’t gone for a bet, thick or otherwise. If you backed a winner or two for good money in here would they ban you? Turn you away? Are those guarantees “subject to status?”. What business do you have in here? It isn’t so clear now.
It is doubtful if Mark Johnston gave as much thought to his recent remark that the new ITV team should “get rid of coverage of betting” as he did to his entries at Glorious Goodwood last week (four more winners to add to an impressive total) but it certainly struck a raw nerve.
Reading between the lines of the comment after a measured appearance from the trainer on Saturday’s Morning Line – in contrast to an edgy, disputatious Graham Cunningham – it seems Johnston is keen that energy be re-focused on the racing, rather than on a culture of slapdash hedonism visible weekly on the racecourse with its focus on booze and bands, as well as, he believes, in the coverage of betting.
Probably he is thinking here about the bookmakers’ egregious advertisements as much as the editorial side of the coverage, though the latter is long overdue a root and branch rethink. (It would have been interesting on Saturday, for instance, for Tom Segal to have been more closely examined on his insistence on tipping outsiders at big meetings, where favourites are establishing such a strong record, and for all interviews with bookmaker PR reps to cease until the firms in question can demonstrate a track record for laying proper bets at the prices they are keen to parrot, like caged birds.)
Returning to Johnston, had he been more closely pressed by Cunningham and others gathered in the Goodwood garden, surely he would have acknowledged that to cover horse racing without, at the minimum, a reference to betting shows, price movements and SP returns would be as empty-headed as showing cricket without reference to the score, but beyond that? How much weight ought to be given to the action on the exchanges, for instance?
What constitutes an expert, when it comes to analysing the form, the odds and the percentages? Ought the divisions to be more clearly marked?
Here is where the debate ought to lie and hopefully is lying in the offices of the new ITV team, though one suspects the main emphasis will be on securing sufficient advertising revenues from the big bookmakers to justify the £30m outlay for the broadcasting rights.
The PR spokesman for one of those firms, Ladbrokes’ David Williams, reminded Johnston in his response to the original comment that “the primary attraction to the sport for the public is through betting”.
Or it was at least, back in the day when John McCririck was holding court in a vibrant betting ring, and Peter O’Sullevan and Julian Wilson were striving to bring gravitas to the great game with an effortlessness which belied the hours they had put in behind the scenes, not least on the telephone to their bookmakers.If spokesmen like Corals’ Simon Clare now find it “beyond laughable” that a man of Mark Johnston’s standing should consider eliminating betting from TV coverage, then how come they have spent so much time, effort and money on doing precisely that in their advertising in recent years?
Gone is any thought of marketing the game in a traditional manner, as a matter of measured reflection, an opportunity to exercise at least a modicum of skill and judgement, as the gates are swung wide open to those who are tempted not by a bet but by a gamble, a frivolous bit of fun on a Saturday afternoon before the football gets going.
No loyal and worthwhile viewer base for the sport of horse racing can be garnered from such a shallow and irresponsible approach (and this is to leave aside the near-fanatical policy adopted by each and every firm to exclude, restrict or eliminate those punters betting along traditional lines; those who would tune into their Saturday coverage in the hope not just of some idle entertainment but in the realistic hope of actually winning some money.) How much independence will Ed Chamberlain and his team have in covering betting once their coverage is underway?
With all that advertising coming in, can they dare countenance requesting the presence of those bookmaker reps not just for cliched conversation, for yet another opportunity to cash in a one-way ticket to free PR, but to be forensically questioned about their divisive approach to the game? Or is it too late?
Hills, mid-morning. The machines being force-fed in all corners. A middle-aged male punter stares in a glazed manner at the screen close to where the paper sits unread on its lectern, as if awaiting the arrival of a speech-maker capable of enlightening the assembled company on the follies of the thing.
The man turns away, takes three strides, before turning around again. Reaches into his wallet for another twenty. Another game – “Magic Castle, featuring Leonora” – is being heavily promoted in-house. It’s pitched at the level of a Year 8 classroom. Maybe younger. Anxious arousal-jags. Uncertainty. Immaturity. They only want passive players.
If you’ve got a spark about you, even one which fires at the level of common sense, with the capacity to recognise what a fool’s game this is, then you’ve no place here.
We won’t speak of a spark of skill, of shrewdness.
The old-time know-how. In the paper today the bookmakers are claiming the gambles landed by Charles Byrne at Roscommon on Tuesday are “bad for the image of the sport”.
As if Magic Castle, Pointless Park and the rest are good for it. The auctioneer is looking around the room.The hammer of the betting game is trembling in his hand. Going... going...
Watching the bookmakers’ advertisements, a very difficult thing to avoid if you have an interest in televised sport, you could be forgiven for believing this is an activity where no money actually changes hands, electronically or otherwise.
“A rubbish day just got a bit less rubbish,” suggests one firm, neatly overlooking the fact that rubbish days have a habit of getting a whole lot worse after you’ve done your money.
Meanwhile, another leading bookmaker emails to disclose its “commitment to responsible gambling” before quickly
getting to the heart of the deception: “Gambling should be entertaining and not seen as a way of making money.” Other than by the bookmakers themselves, of course.
They are peddling a legal high. Or the promise of such a high, which hasn’t yet been proved to actually exist.
Gambling is a downer, in other than the most capable and experienced of hands (and even then, a week or two back, a punter friend of the traditional kind, who makes it pay at ground level, by reading between the lines of things, hopes in a manner approaching prayer that his teenage son won’t get gripped by the game. That he’ll already have seen enough to be looking elsewhere and to other things).
As for the idea of gambling “responsibly”, well, there are individuals with sufficient inner stillness to hook venomous snakes on the end of sticks, before flicking them out of harm’s way into thickclad canvas sacks, but as for the rest of us...
The standard of punditry regarding race-riding usually leaves plenty to be desired – another jockey praised for a “great ride” after he’s badly misjudged the pace on a hard-ridden favourite while the rider of the second gets no mention for helping his mount out-run its odds – so full marks to Racing UK’s James Willoughby for his incisive and engaging analysis of Gavin Lerena’s winning ride on 25/1 shot Arch Villain in the Stayers’ Handicap on Shergar Cup day at Ascot (1.45).
South African champion Lerena later completed a stylish double on Danehill Kodiac (3.30).
Don’t underestimate him if, as expected, he picks up plenty of good rides during an extended stay in Britain this summer.
To continue last month’s analysis of course trainer form, here are some addi- tional nuggets to bear in mind on the Flat.
There won’t be an abundance of qualifiers, but the figures suggest the strike rate could be exceptional.
Roger Charlton – runners at Brighton Luca Cumani – runners at Brighton James Fanshawe – runners at Lingfield (turf)
William Haggas – runners at Carlisle and Musselburgh
David Simcock – runners in Scotland, at Catterick and Thirsk
Sir Michael Stoute – runners at Chepstow and Ffos Las Saeed bin Suroor – runners at Bath It is too early to be drawing conclusions regarding the new all-weather surface at Newcastle, but early results indicate Newmarket yards will profit here.
Cumani, Fanshawe and Stoute already have eye-catching records from a handful of runners.
Saeed Bin Suroor