One of the main aspects linked to the sport of horseracing is the betting which takes place on the outcome of races. This can be in many different forms, from fixed price betting (i.e. placing a bet at a price, therefore knowing your return if successful) to totaliser betting, where your stake or bet money goes into a pool, from which winnings are shared for those who side with the winning horse.
Ways and means of placing bets has changed over time, bringing us to the multi-faceted market place bookmakers and punters move in today. There are many ways of placing bets, including those listed below.
- On course at race meetings
- In bookmakers shops
- By phone
- On the Internet via desktop/mobile/tablet sites
The history of placing bets or gambling on the outcome of an event like racing horses and greyhounds comes from the basic system of each competitor putting forward a stake or entry fee, with the winner taking the prize fund. Licensed bookmaking and betting was born out of similarly simple beginnings, with initially unlicensed people offering odds on the outcome of events within their local community.
In the early days to bet on an event you would have to attend the venue. Then many ‘street bookmakers’ provided an unlicensed way to bet, with bookies runners collecting bets from pubs and clubs. This meant that people could place bets on events taking place, with the bets settled once the outcome had become known to all.
The Horserace Totalisator Board (better known as The Tote) was formed by government in 1928 as a way offering a regulated on-course way for people to bet when attending the races. This form of pool betting works like a lottery, with funds bet being totalled up and divided between those who win, and therefore means dividends are less for more popular selections. The Tote still operates today with both on-course and off-course pool betting through a wide range of bets, mostly notably its ‘Scoop6’. A percentage is taken out of the pool before it is divided to cover costs and to ensure money is put back into the sport.
From 1st May 1961, bookmakers in the UK needed a licence to operate. The creation of these high street bookmakers meant that ‘street bookies’ had to meet legislation or cease to operate. Those bookmakers who did continue provided the foundations to the known bookmakers still operating today like William Hill. The first bookmaker offices would have a radio commentary service that would be heard providing a limited coverage of the races taking place. Telephone betting soon followed with regular customers being offered accounts that could be settled over a set period.
Progress towards the 21st Century
With the improvements of technology came the first television pictures to be shown in betting shops in 1986. The introduction of televised races and sports meant that people could place bets and watch their selections in the bookmakers, rather than having to attend the events. Until wider television coverage became available, this meant that the bookmakers was the only place to watch the majority of races, and understandably made betting in the bookmakers more appealing.
The appeal of bookmakers over attending race meeting themselves also grew in 2002, until when bets placed through off-course bookmakers were liable to tax. This initial 10% figure (reduced to 9%) was added to bets placed or if not paid was taken from a punters returns. Until the abolition of tax the only way to avoid paying it was to attend race meetings where bets were tax free. From 2002 onwards the tax punters paid was abolished, with the tax or levy instead being taken by government from bookmakers profits.
The Internet Revolution
Punters are much better served today for options of how to bet and who to bet with, due to the internet opening up firstly computers and more recently mobiles and tablets.
Following on from the telephone betting account approach, the internet has meant that there is no need to go near a bookmakers shop to have a bet. The internet has seen bookmakers have to compete far more for business, with punters now likely to have accounts with many bookmakers in the pursuit of the best odds and associated offers.
With the introduction of the internet also came betting exchanges. This person to person approach made most famous by Betfair gave people further opportunity to profit from their opinions, with not only the option of putting money on what would win, but also profiting from ‘laying’ or predicting what would lose. The popularity of this type of betting has soared, with people making a living from ‘hedging’ and betting in running by attempting to bet at larger odds and lay off at shorter.
How the UK Compares
The options available to bet on horseracing in the UK and Ireland with fixed odds betting through bookmakers, pool style betting with The Tote and most recently the introduction of betting exchanges like Betfair offer far more choice to punters than what is available overseas. Countries like France and America rely solely on the pool style betting like The Tote in the UK. As explained above, this type of betting called the Pari-mutuel in France is a more regulated approach which does not offer the same variety, choice or control over prices, but does ensure a level playing field and simplifies fees of levy to be taken from bets.