Executives at the Tote expressed their
disappointment yesterday as the pool-betting operator released figures showing
that turnover at Royal Ascot was down by 10%, despite the meeting recording an
increase of 4.7% in overall attendance to 287,876. Nearly £8m was bet
with the Tote at Ascot in 2007, but this year, the total was just
The sudden drop in Tote
turnover is seen as a sign of tougher economic times compared to 2007, but also
as an indication of the kind of competitive pressures that the Tote is likely
to face in the years ahead. Royal Ascot is a meeting at which the Tote would
normally expect to do well, due to the high number of "casual" racegoers, who
are more likely to bet at the nearest window than walk to the betting ring
before each race. A number of "satellite" areas for bookmakers, away from the
traditional betting ring, were in use at this year's Royal Ascot for the first
time, however, and appear to have been a major success with the punters.
"The tough economic conditions certainly had an effect on Totepool
turnover," David Craven, Totepool's managing director, said yesterday. "Fewer
customers were betting at the windows and with our couriers this year. The
introduction of new satellite SP bookmaker positions dotted around the race
course also impacted Tote turnover.
"Moving forward, the Tote is developing its own
solution to compete with satellite SP positions which will be trialled this
summer. We believe this will provide greater net income to racecourses."
The drop in Tote turnover at Royal Ascot seems to chime with the
observations of many ring bookmakers last week that business at the Royal
meeting, where the strength of the markets was once a match for the Cheltenham
Festival, is not what it was. Racegoers at Ascot, it seems, now want the
experience without so much of the risk.
Saturday's attendance of
70,675, which was within 2,500 of the figure for the hugely popular Ladies' Day
on Thursday, suggests that the final day of the meeting could soon become the
most popular of the week, despite having been added to the Royal meeting just
six year ago.
However, the first two days of the meeting on Tuesday and
Wednesday are struggling to compete, and despite modest rises to 40,092 and
41,911 respectively, both were nearly 20,000 adrift of Friday's figure, never
mind the bumper crowds on Thursday and Saturday.
"What we've found is
that people are still coming but when they get here they are just easing off a
bit," Nick Smith, Ascot's head of communications, said yesterday. "Sales of
champagne were slightly down in all the public enclosures, for instance, and we
sold about 150,000 bottles across the site when we would normally expect to
sell about 170,000.
"Saturday's figure was brilliant. People are coming
back to Ascot, but just not in quite the numbers we would want to help boost
Tuesday and Wednesday. It may be a sign of the economic times, in that people
want to come to Ascot, but they are not prepared to give up time in the office
in order to do so."
Tuesday's meeting opened with three consecutive
Group One events, but these were played out in front of grandstands that felt
empty, by Ascot standards, and with no hint of the sort of atmosphere generated
on the final three days of the meeting. However, Smith believes the grand
opening to the meeting is still the best way to begin, regardless of the
relatively disappointing crowd.
"It starts the whole thing with huge
momentum," Smith said. "In a way you could almost argue for more Group Ones
earlier in the week, when the real racing crowd is there. The bottom line is
that we were up by nearly 13,000 people. We used to get 50,000 on Tuesday but
times have changed and we're probably not going to get back to that. At the
same time, we are not going to go back to just 40,000 on Saturday either."