| With a payout
in excess of the jockeys Magnificent Seven on the cards at the Royal
meeting, the big firms did no one a favour by refusing multiples
There were some memorable and historic achievements
at Royal Ascot last week, including Hayley Turners win on Thanks Be in
the Sandringham, the first at the meeting for a female jockey since 1987, and
Blue Points Group One double in the weeks big sprints.
everything else pales into insignificance when set against Frankie
Dettoris remarkable afternoon on Thursday, when he won the first four
races including the Gold Cup and left the bookies staring at a potential payout
for a Dettori six-timer which would have far exceeded the £30m for his
Magnificent Seven in 1996.
In the end, they got out of
jail, though it would have been fun to see the faces in the big firms
trading rooms when Ian Bartlett, the track commentator, yelled that
Dettoris mount Turgenev was two lengths clear at the furlong
pole in the fifth. And from that moment on at this years Royal
meeting, some bookies were taking no chances.
On Friday morning, it
became apparent that Bet365, the biggest internet-only bookie, was refusing to
allow punters to back all five of Dettoris mounts in the same bet. They
turned away anything more than four Dettori-ridden horses in multiples on
Saturday too, when SkyBet also joined in, banning customers from putting his
three longer-priced runners in one multiple.
This was, on the face of
it, an act of extraordinary cowardice, by Bet365 in particular. This is, after
all, the firm that paid Denise Coates, its founder and chief executive,
£265m in 2017, and £217m the year before that. It was also turning
away precisely the kind of bets that any bookmaking firm worthy of the name
should be falling over itself to get: casual, price-insensitive money with a
huge margin for the layer.
But the modern internet bookie is a very
different beast to those that were operating in 1996. When Dettori had his
incredible afternoon at Ascot 23 years ago, the pre-internet off-course betting
industry did what it could to manage its liabilities, by shortening the SPs of
his later runners. Online customers, though, tend to take a price and
why not, when almost all firms offer best odds guaranteed, and pay
out at the SP if your horse is a drifter?
Online punters also have the
option to cash out from a bet halfway through. It is, in normal
circumstances, a risk-management tool for the bookie, but on Thursday, when the
odds on Dettoris last two mounts suddenly crashed from double-figures to
short-priced favourites, the circumstances were anything but.
was the first jockey to ride four winners in one afternoon at Royal Ascot since
Lester Piggott in 1965. The chance he would do it again on Friday, never mind
go through the card, was vanishingly small.
But it was not impossible
and Bet365, like other big online operators, has a customer base that
is, for the most part, not unduly worried about the true odds in the first
place. Why? Because punters who do understand the importance of pricing are
hunted down by traders on a daily basis and their accounts restricted or
A huge customer base with a high proportion of
price-insensitive punters is, on 9,999 days out of 10,000, an internet
bookies ideal scenario. On the other, it holds the potential for an
Dettoris exploits on Thursday guaranteed
the number of punters looking to back him in multiples would be several times
bigger on Friday. If 20,000 punters a small fraction of Bet365s
total user base placed bets with a possible £500,000 payout, the
potential liability for the layer would have been £10bn.
and SkyBet, having teetered on the edge on Thursday when Turgenev was down to
1-3 in-running on Betfair, decided to take a step back on Friday and Saturday.
Like Ronald Reagan when it came to hard work never killing anyone, they figured
why take the chance?
Because they are supposed to be
bookmakers, is the obvious answer. But it is what this says about modern
betting that is most disturbing. If you exterminate price-sensitive punters,
they lose interest and go elsewhere. If you then disappoint the casual punters
and refuse their high-margin bets, they will start to lose interest too. And
who will be left to bet on racing then?