An on-course bookmaker with no crowds of punters to serve is always going to struggle to make ends meet.
But the numbers recorded at the Ebor Festival – the first major trial of getting on-course bookmakers back on the turf – suggest that the picture is even worse than feared.
Keith Johnson, one of the bookies allowed at York racecourse for the four-day meeting, reported that he took just 114 bets across the whole festival – including just 12 on the Friday, a day on which he didn’t even have to lay a single horse in some of the races. Of course, no spectators were permitted so it was only owners and support staff who were able to bet.
Johnson and Joe Huddlestone, another on-course odds provider, also reported that they took just ten bets paid for by debit card – all other punters placed their wagers with cash instead; despite the government’s stated hope of minimising cash transactions to help stabilise the spread of Covid-19.
And that could be an issue, with both the bookies themselves and punters preferring notes over cards when it comes to getting their bets on.
“If there was ever a time when the card machine was gonna get a hammering, it was this week and it hasn’t,” Johnson said.
“Between the two of us, over 97% of bets were cash. So I think it’s quite obvious that when we do get back to some sense of normality, racecourses have got to realise that the choice is clear and people want to bet in cash.”
No Crowds Makes On-Course Bookmaking ‘Unviable’
The question on the lips of all racing fans is when will they be allowed to return to the track and have a flutter on some live action?
The answer, as things stand, is that nobody knows, although October has been mooted as the possible date for a controlled return with limited numbers.
Johnson believes that if punters aren’t welcomed back on site any time soon, he and his fellow odds-providers could be seeking alternative employment.
“It’s obvious that, without crowds, it’s just not viable for bookmakers,” he said.
Meanwhile, ten-year betting ring veteran Adam Crowne told The Sun that his income had been virtually zero since March – and that he feared for the future of his industry.
“At the moment I don’t have a business, and neither do the other bookmakers.
“We invest a lot of time and effort into it and employ various people, and we need the crowds. Most of us aren’t qualified to do anything else.”
Crowne also referenced the trials that have been carried out of late, and did not paint a picture of positivity in his verdict.
“The racecourses have to do these trials to see if they can manage.
“But the bookmakers who I have spoken to have said they’ve been pathetic, they’ve served very few people.
“There seems no reason why we shouldn’t have some form of crowd. We’re out in the open air, the risk of transmission is very small.”
The St Leger, and meetings at Warwick and Newcastle, look set to be the first to welcome a small number of spectators – on-course bookies will be hoping for a better return from them.