Pool Betting can flourish under new regime

13 August 2019

For all the brilliance of the sport at Ascot, I believe it is the events that surrounded the pool betting operation at this year’s Royal meeting that could have the most lasting effect on British horseracing. 

Ascot’s so-called World Pool was a collaboration between the racecourse’s own Bet With Ascot, Totepool and the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Punters from no less than 13 countries were involved in betting into this pool so that, over the week, 24 of Ascot’s 30 races had comingled pools. The remaining six races had to rely on domestic pools because they had over 24 runners. 

The World Pool was a resounding success. The total gross pool betting turnover for the week increased by 415% from £17.9m in 2018 to £92.23m in 2019, Britain’s first ever £1m-plus win pool was created by the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and even the UK pool turnover increased by 90%. 

Even more exciting was what this delivered to punters. Good enough that Tote dividends on the win market at the meeting beat SP 16 times, but the really impressive statistic is that a £1 bet on the 30 winners on the Tote would have returned £102.53 more than a £1 bet at SP. 

We know the more money that is bet on British horseracing, the more racing benefits. However, what is less obvious is why it would be of greater benefit to racing if a
significant proportion of betting money is diverted to the Tote and, indeed, if total betting turnover grew as a result of a vibrant pool betting operation in this country.

Very soon, we hope the off-course Tote betting operation in the UK will be entirely owned by Alizeti, a company largely made up of racing-friendly shareholders. Alizeti are clear in their objectives to help British horseracing and, while in the short term, this may not go much beyond their obligation to pay into the levy and to Britbet’s 55 racecourses, Tote race sponsorship will surely become a priority as soon as funds permit.

Alizeti’s prime short-term objective, however, must be to capture the hearts and minds of punters. Reducing the takeout from the pool is clearly the most expedient way of doing this, but it is also the most financially challenging. 

There is a long-held belief in British racing that we are a nation of fixed-odds bettors. Not for us the so-called exotic bets that pool betting can offer, or even simple win and place when it is unclear what the returns are until after the event. 

But this, surely, is a fallacy. It is a fallacy because if punters find they are consistently getting bigger pay-outs for betting on horses at, say, 10-1 or more with the Tote than at SP, they will surely bet on the Tote. If punters find the Tote’s Exacta outperforms the bookmakers’ Computer Straight Forecast over and over again, as it did at Royal Ascot, then most will surely choose the Tote. 
It will not happen overnight and it will take a lot of astute marketing to get this message out there, but it will happen as long as Alizeti provides punters with easy access to pool betting. Of course, they are already doing this in betting shops through Tote Direct, but the real test will begin when their new app is launched next March in time for the Cheltenham Festival. 

We know the betting market is mimicking the high street as more of the business moves from shops to online and we know the inexorable rise of digital technology can only be good for the Tote business. We have also learnt from the Royal Ascot experience that pool betting on British racecourses should be embracing international markets at major festival meetings. 

And we, as owners, must play our own small part in choosing to bet with the Tote. Not just for altruistic reasons, for the events at Royal Ascot showed we’ll probably be better off by doing so. Pool betting can flourish under new regime.


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