Last weekend there was a televised discussion about betting markets during live horse racing from Leopardstown’s Dublin Festival. The conversation discussed how gamblers bet today with all non-essential retail closed in Ireland. The answer of course is online.
The switch to online betting – growing in popularity before Covid-19 – has increased at an even faster speed. With bricks and mortar betting shops closed for the foreseeable future, it will be interesting to observe if habits change once they reopen.
The other important element of the betting market that remains shut is the on-course betting market. On-course betting was a cornerstone of the betting market. Prior to government legislation in 1920s and 1940s, the only place one could have a bet in Ireland was at the course. This market therefore created the crucial “starting price” (SP) from which all off-course betting services then anchored upon.
The on-course betting ring is a sight to behold. In fact, it provides a wonderful illustration of how a financial market – albeit a very short-lived one – works. The ring is a hive of information and prices. Bookmakers list prices and bettor (punters) respond. Part of the fun of going racing is walking around the betting ring looking for the best price. If positive information about the chances of a horse reaches the betting ring, punters will back the horse and the price will tumble. There are times when you might miss a price because you move to late.
Sometimes the betting ring will reach an impasse as punters and bookies are not prepared to trade at current prices. One bookie may increase the price of a horse and a rush will ensue. Observing this is both fun and interesting. If the bookie takes all bets and the price remains unchanged, those that backed might regret their rush. If however the punters force the bookie back to his/her original price, or lower, they might have been right to rush for the higher price. Often, you can observe bookies rushing to 'lay off' with other bookies, attempting to hedge against potential losses following a big gamble. Indeed, a handful of big bets can shift the on-course market.
The return of the betting ring will be interesting to witness post-Covid. As someone said to me recently, they wonder if bookies will attempt to move over to debit card (tap) devices. Currently, the market is almost all cash. This would be an interesting step and could help the betting ring survive and maybe even grow.
Racing would be a much lesser place without on-course betting market. The last year has proved (to me at least) that betting online is a poor substitute to the fun and enjoyment of being in the betting ring. Maybe one consequence of the past year might be to reserve the fortunes of on-course betting.