British horse racing is bracing itself for a possible downturn in investment from their betting partners over the next few years as the government has decided to lower the minimum stake allowed on FOBTs. If you don’t know what they are, then they are fixed odds betting terminals which are installed into betting shops, with four allowed per shop. If you’ve been in a shop over the last decade you will have seen them, and also seen the interest they generate from punters.
These machines currently allow people to play up to £100 a game, so if you take roulette as an example you can play £100 per spin, with each spin lasting 20-30 seconds. That means £200 a minute can be lost on these machines, it is no wonder many people have been looking to limit them, something that has finally happened.
While the talk about these machines will be all over for the next week or so, it is British racing I am interested in and the impact it could have on our sport. Of course, the hope is that this has no effect on racing at all, and the sport continues to thrive as it has done over the past few years. However, should the loss of income from these machines affect the bookmakers then a lack of income from them, plus the loss of sponsorship deals are likely to hurt racing.
Week in week out we see big horse races sponsored by bookmakers, and should they lose part of their income this is the first thing they will cut back on. Elsewhere, with the sport suffering losses in income, will big-name sponsors still be as willing to come on board and support racing like they have done in the past. It is fair to say we have seen a real surge in sponsorship, both from betting companies and outside companies over the past decade and it would be a real shame to lose that should it happen.
The biggest thing that racing needs to focus on right now is continuing to be itself. Racing was around long before the FOBTs came into betting shops, and it has stood the test of time. While the bookmakers may be in for a couple of tough years while they adjust to their income drop, it is up to them to invent new ways of making money, and offering new betting opportunities to punters. Racing has a great product right now, and there is no reason to change what those at the top of the sport are doing.
The bookmakers need racing just as much as racing needs the bookmakers. This is something that will take time to work out, and something that involves racing in a big way, but there is no need for racing itself to change anything in the way that it operates right now. The sport has flourished over the past decade, and continuing that will go a long way to ensuring racing isn’t affected in a big way by the FOBT scandal that has hit betting shops.