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|Flexi bets could put Tote and punters on to a winner
| Of all the groups
within racing feeling the financial pinch, few have to air their dirty laundry
as publicly as the Tote. As a result of the pool operation's open-book
accounting policy, we know that on-course pool betting has been hit hard by the
lack of cash in the pocket of the casual racegoer and more particularly by the
sharp decline in corporate hospitality sales.
Big-spending box-bound punters have, for some
years, helped sustain Tote pools at healthy levels by using the
strategically-placed outlets. On average, Tote pools at the major meetings are
down 15% year-on-year, particularly disappointing given that the Tote's profits
are as they must continue to emphasise invested in the sport.
A creaking IT infrastructure, left neglected while the prospect of a
sale loomed earlier in the decade, has been exposed on occasions. The achingly
clunky Totesport website has all the style of a charity shop fashion show.
Thankfully, a new website is believed to be in the pipeline, along with
improved display screens at racecourses and quicker updating of pools and odds.
Meanwhile, the testing period for
the Tote's new Flexi Bet continues. The technology involved is more complex
than other pool betting products. Tote customers need to have confidence in the
bet. But beyond all the doom and gloom, there is genuine reason to believe that
the Flexi Bet could prove an exciting and successful addition to the portfolio
and substantially increase turnover on pools for "exotic bets" such as the
Exacta and Trifecta.
Flexi-betting works by a punter nominating the
total stake of the bet they wish to place. The individual stake for each line
is then calculated and winnings paid out as a percentage of the dividend equal
to the percentage of the unit stake. Effectively it means that bets with a unit
stake of as little as one penny can be placed, making the placing of
substantial perms a lot easier. For example, if a punter wanted to perm six
horses in a Trifecta, that would cost £120 for a £1 unit. But if
the same punter only wanted to spend £30 on the bet, they would be paid
25% of the Trifecta dividend if successful.
In Australia, Flexi-betting
has proved highly successful in boosting pools and the bet was also launched in
Hong Kong last year to a warm reception. British punters are notoriously wary
of exotic wagers and the response to the launch of the Tote's Swinger bet last
year has proved luke-warm, even if pools for the bet do now seem to be slowly
However the opportunity to secure a share of meatier dividends
for much smaller stakes should surely prove a hit and the possibility of
Flexi-betting being extended to Jackpots and Placepots in the future could
encourage punters to try to assemble larger and more complicated perms where
the cost of such bets was previously prohibitive.
The Tote has the
middle of next month circled as a possible "soft launch" date for the bet, on
an on-course-only basis, with Flexi-betting expected to be fully rolled out in
the weeks afterwards.
Do not expect big-staking pool players to like
it. The chance of a big pool, for example a rollover Jackpot, being scooped to
a single unit will decrease considerably if anyone can have a go. But anyone
who has ever attempted to explain the workings of a Placepot or Trifecta perm
to a non-betting friend knows that the key question to ask is always "How much
do you want to spend?".
If that simplicity can be expressed in the
marketing for the Flexi Bet, then the Tote may just find that they have a hit
on their hands.