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Bookmaker restrictions - are they harming racing?

It's an emotion-charged argument - if the funding of horse racing lies in the hands of bookmakers, then why should they be allowed to close/restrict accounts of 'winning' punters, which eventually turns punters away from racing? Racing's biggest enemy is other forms of betting, in particular migration to simpler types of betting on sport. In so many cases of these closed accounts, there's little evidence they are actually winning, just taking advantage of 'best' prices firms are promoting in order to attract business.

Bookmakers are in business to make money, but they have been granted a licence to take bets, something which should be regarded as a privilege and not a birthright. Do they have the right to refuse bets? Is that not just a form of discrimination against people smart enough to back their own opinion? But there's half the problem - so many of these 'punters' being refused bets aren't actually backing their own opinion, they are just following a tipster or information, jumping on a price that is crashing, betting for someone else or simply arbing.

Have bookmakers brought it all upon themselves? They can claim that the industry has changed, but is the only reason so many 'beard' accounts exist because of their restrictive policy in the first place? Is there a valid alternative for these 'winning' punters? The tote in Britain is completely ineffective; Betfair's big advantage in racing is nowhere near as pronounced as it was in their glory days (for punters, not for share owners); can the on-course market step in?

Racing NSW has certainly set the standard for the racing industry, but to date, it only applies to one state in Australia, and Australian racing has much more control over the betting industry than British and Irish counterparts can ever dream of.

It's a debate which will roll on for years - let's hope there's some middle ground which can be found in Britain, perhaps via the new BHA Horse Racing Bettors Forum.

Taking up the challenge is leading freelance racing journalist Kevin Blake, with an article in his regular AtTheRaces blog. Kevin also has written a wonderful book detailing one year of successful punting on racing. The lessons in attention to detail and discipline are extremely valuable, and you can find the book,

"It Can Be Done: Exposing the myth that all horse racing punters are destined to lose"

on Amazon by clicking here

Are bookmaker restrictions strangling betting on Racing?

This column has often bemoaned the incredible ability that the people in horse racing have to make mountains out of molehills.

However, it is even more worrying that they are also just as capable of turning mountains into molehills by all but ignoring some very serious matters.

For me, the latter tendency has been exhibited to no greater extent than in the case of the ever-increasing reluctance of bookmakers to lay bets of meaningful size to almost anything bar consistent losers.

Of course, the vast majority of people that have a bet on horse racing will bet in small stakes and lose in the long term thus won’t meet with too many problems, but for those that have the temerity to win or even show the tendencies of those that win, account closures and the restriction of stakes to miniscule levels have become an everyday issue.

This will come as a surprise to many casual observers who are so used to hearing bookmaker’s representatives reporting the big bets they have supposedly taken, coupled with the fact that the issue isn’t regularly discussed in the racing media, but I would go so far as to suggest that this reality represents a serious threat to the long-term popularity and financial prosperity of horse racing.

That may seem like a big statement, especially to the many in racing who are not into the betting side of the sport, but whether one likes or not, horse racing and betting are joined at the hip.

Racing depends on betting for a significant proportion of its funding and public interest in the sport, thus it is of great importance that everyone in racing is made aware of the extent of this issue and the background to it so that it can be addressed and remedied before irreparable damage is done to the sport and it’s following.

Read the rest of the article here


  1. The 'bookmaker should lay bets debate' has raged for many years, and there is clearly no one answer. Its a different question, for the on-course bookie and off-course one - historically, they are intermingled, but, perhaps its time, for them to split.

    The Uk racecourses have become a mess.

    Starting price is returned from the racecourse, to the thousands of off-course shops (who argue, racing takes an increasingly small share of their business), but this SP, is by no means perfect, nor without manipulation.

    Punters want to be laid bets, but, the industry cannot work to minimal profit margins - and Betfair has badly hurt the profitability of on-course bookies, who are forced to copy exchange prices, in fear of sending astute punters elsewhere.

    In todays tech age, I often see punters with mobiles in the ring, comparing prices. Sure, many dont, but, these are the casual punters. Real people, who want real bets, know, the true market price, and what to expect.

    I feel, the industry needs a radical revamp. An industry profit margin, should be established - say, 1.5% per runner, and industry prices, should be formed, to sit alongside. At these levels, there is some room for error .. and if anyone decides they want to offer better than the industry price, they should be prepared to lay. How much - is another web - but I really feel, transparency about profit margins, is the only way, Uk racecourses will recover the vibe of yesteryear.


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