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On-Course Bookies Are Back….But Fears Remain Over a ‘Cashless’ Future

On-Course Bookmaker
Credit: dom fellowes, flickr

The UK government rolls out the second phase of its relaxation of the rules regarding spectators at live sporting events this weekend.

The World Snooker Championship kicks off on Friday with 300 punters allowed inside the Crucible Theatre each day, and then on Saturday Glorious Goodwood will open its doors to around 4,000 members.

Food and drink will be available and so too, for the first time since lockdown in March, will be on-course bookmakers. Four bookies have been selected for the trial at the Sussex track, but they will be taking debit card payments only using contactless payment technology.

And moving forward, the industry’s representatives at the Federation of Racecourse Bookmakers believe that cashless betting could prove disastrous to the long-term viability of on-course bookies. They have appealed to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to allow cash payments, citing a host of difficulties if they proceed as planned.

Robin Grossmith, of the Federation, said:

“The last thing we want are problems with the trial. The DCMS probably doesn’t appreciate the difficulties we may have.

“We think if cash can be taken, it will be a success. We’re just concerned that there could be all sorts of technical problems that are beyond our control.

“Every betting shop in the high street takes cash, every supermarket takes cash, I don’t know of a business that doesn’t. We’re working out in the open air that the SAGE experts say is the safest place to be, yet cash is to be banned and we don’t understand the rationale.”

A Question of Speed

POS Payment Terminal

When you place a bet with an on-course bookie, time is often of the essence – particularly if you are wagering based upon the behaviour of the horses as they are led down to the start.

And according to one bookmaker, Simon James, the issue with contactless payments is that they can actually slow down the process while waiting for confirmation of the transaction going through successfully – particularly where there are gremlins in the system.

“I’ve timed it and it’s about 30 seconds per bet coming in, James said. “If you were to work flat out for half an hour – the gap between races – you could take 60 bets. That isn’t allowing for any payouts.

“If the first favourite wins and you have a queue of 30 people trying to get paid, you could spend the whole of the next race’s betting time paying people out.

“This cannot be allowed to happen. It is a disaster waiting to happen.”

World Health Organisation Claims Cash is Not a Covid Transmitter

British Coins and Notes

The theory at large is that the exchange of money can lead to the spread of Covid-19 from person to person, and with approximately 4,000 punters on site at Goodwood the situation could soon get out of hand – the 2020 Cheltenham Festival continues to be earmarked, erroneously or not, as a major transmitter of the virus in the early going of the pandemic.

The confusion reigns because the World Health Organisation HAS NOT claimed that exchanging money can spread the disease. Instead, they maintain that as long as individuals wash their hands and/or sanitise after exchanging money, there is no scientific proof to suggest that Covid-19 can transfer from person-to-person in this way.

And so there isn’t a top-level reason – other than the guidelines of the DCMS – to prevent cash betting.