THE pandemic has had devastating effects on most industries and sadly, horse race betting has been affected too. Before Covid-19, there were opportunities to bet on horse races all through the year.
When the UK went into lockdown, however, things changed dramatically. The legendary Cheltenham Festival had just come to an end and bookmakers along with horse racing big-wigs were glad that they had managed to hold the meeting. The four-day event had attracted more than 250,000 punters. But many stakeholders in the horse racing betting industry didn’t realise that this boost to the industry would be short-lived.
Once the lockdown came into full effect, horse races shut down. There were no meetings, and jockeys, trainers, and bookmakers got into a tight spot. Even though owners would keep paying training fees, shutdowns put unnecessary pressure on freelancers and small businesses. Top jockeys and trainers may have had some level of financial cushioning but those in lower positions had a hard time.
The Effect of Covid-19 on Bookmakers
Covid-19 has affected bookmaking which is a vital part of the economy. In the UK, bookmaking employs more than 100,000 people. Covid shutdowns translate to a drop in the number of horse races that punters can bet on, and losses for bookmakers.
The Grand National was the first big race to be cancelled. It would have generated £250 million in bets only. It is just one of the huge losses that the industry suffered. Bookies, however, managed to stage an online Virtual Grand National to make up for the cancelled event. The virtual event attracted five million punters who helped raise £3m. The proceeds were used to help the NHS.
This virtual event was a great opportunity for bookmakers to acquire new customers. It opened up their minds to the potential of virtual games. Virtual races have now become an important part of the horse race betting world.
The UK gambling industry has always experienced constant year-on-year growth in revenue. Horse race betting has always done well. Gamblers have lots of ways to win and it is easy to find a great site.
After the return of racing, the prize money for betting has been reduced by up to half. The prizes have dropped because racing sponsors are trying to get back the money they lost during the lockdown. On-course bookmaking has dropped by about 87 percent. The numbers will remain unimpressive until punters can go to races again. They are an inevitable result of the current environment.
The absence of attendances in horse races has not only affected on-course bookmakers but related businesses as well. Tote and caterers have been rendered jobless. Even though there are efforts to ensure that attendances return soon, making up for the lost time may be a challenge.
The Cancellation of Meetings
The biggest meetings that were cancelled due to corona include: All-Weather Finals Day, Lingfield, Dubai Duty Free Springs Trials, Coral Scottish Grand National meeting Ayr, and April meeting Cheltenham. Racing open days at Middleham and Lambourn were postponed too.
According to the BHA, racing will continue being suspended until ‘the end of April. The decision is, however, subject to change depending on the changing trends.
In Hong Kong, horse racing has already restarted. However, it is done behind closed doors and all the attendees need to wear face masks. The Hong Kong Jockey Club lets ‘voting members with seasonal tables’ go to Wednesday meetings. France has halted racing until April 15.
Changes in Betting Habits
Covid-19 has changed the way that punters in the UK place bets. In the six months of 2002 through June, Ladbrokes Coral Group’s parent company, GVC Holdings, announced that it had experienced a like-for-like 50 percent drop in the UK’s retail Net Gaming Revenue. The drop was attributed to the lockdown of land-based stores from March.
Although horse racing didn’t seem to be adversely affected at that moment, the numbers started dropping soon after. The most anticipated races coupled with the suspension of football and other sports meant punters did not have much to bet on. Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, punters have adapted just as well as operators. According to the Gambling Commission, horse racing and football make up about 75 percent of the sports betting market. In their absence, operators have given punters new games to bet on and many individuals have shifted their attention to the available options.
Post Lockdown Winnings
Even as lockdown measures have started easing, remote gambling remains popular. According to the GC, remote GGY rose 115 percent to £217.5 million from May to June 2020. June had a higher GGY than it did before the lockdown. Off-track horse race betting is likely to drive growth in the future.
According to the GC, the total bets on real-event sports rose 146 percent from £104 million to £255.4 million from May to June. This increase came after hitting the worst low of £61 million in April.
The British Horseracing Association published a nine-point Racing Recovery Plan to cushion the industry from the impact of corona. The main purpose of the plan was to ensure that spectators could get back to the racecourse fast.
The Main Obstacles
While most stakeholders in the industry have maintained a positive outlook, it continues to face significant challenges that may be inhibiting its growth. The sudden shift to remote gambling along with the changes in gambling habits have added to the already-existing pressures of the gambling world.
According to a survey by April YouGov, only 0.2% of respondents started gambling for the first time in the first few weeks of the pandemic. 33 percent reported to have tried some new gambling activities during lockdown. Many of them now prefer options that offer instant gratification like online poker and slots.
Many bookmakers have been forced to close their doors. In August 2020, for example, William Hill announced that it would be closing 119 of its establishments permanently. It had plans of merging online and retail operations. Bookmakers that cannot adapt to the post-pandemic environment do not stand a chance.