By Dr Laura Donnellan, Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Limerick, Ireland
In March 2019, the Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF) published the results of its annual betting survey.
The HBF was established in August 2015 with the assistance of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA); however, it is wholly independent from the BHA. The BHA and the HBF have a ‘good working relationship’ (Horseracing Bettors Forum, HBF Home, https://ukhbf.org/).
Its membership consists of between seven and nine individuals who are unpaid. It meets approximately every three months to discuss matters of interest pertaining to the betting industry. Although it does not have any powers, it seeks to inform policy through the information it elicits through its annual survey.
The role of the HBF is to represent what it perceives to be the interests of the betting public. It provides feedback to racing and betting bodies, including, the BHA. The HBF views its role as being a conduit for the collection and dissemination of data, which it hopes benefits the betting industry and the sport of horseracing.
In late 2018, the HBF sent out its survey to racing groups via social media. It contacted groups through Twitter, Facebook and directly contacted racing groups in the UK. It received 1,024 responses (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, October 2018, https://ukhbf.org/files/HBF_2019_Bettors_Survey_Report_v0.2.pdf). The data received will inform the HBF of its future priorities. It is a lengthy survey that consists of 110 pages and includes pie charts, graphs and information in tabular form.
A number of trends emerged:
Age: only 5% of respondents were aged between 18 and 25; 27% fell within the 61-80 age bracket. There were 269 responses from those aged below 41; therefore, younger bettors were those aged 18-40 (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 10). As the there was a lack of information on the 18-25 bettors, by increasing it to 40, more information could be gleaned. Younger bettors, the survey found, need to be educated and more engaged in horseracing (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 4). The majority of younger bettors were more inclined to bet on football; obtain their racing information from social media; and more likely to bet in betting shops (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 10).
Gender: the vast majority of respondents were male, 94%; 5% were female; and 1% opted not to disclose their gender (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 4). Female bettors, it found, were more occasional bettors and did not bet every day (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 11).
Frequency of betting: an overwhelming majority, 88%, reported that they frequently bet on horseracing (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 4). Just under 69% of bettors bet every day: in total 705 out of the 1,024 respondents (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 44). Horseracing was the most popular form of betting. With regard to other types of sports betting, 16% of respondents stated they occasionally bet on greyhound racing and 58% either occasionally or frequently bet on football. Fewer respondents indicated that they played the lottery often or occasionally: 26% in total. With regard to casinos and online betting, 81% of horse racing bettors stated that they never engaged in this type of betting, and 93% of respondents never played Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). This statistic is noteworthy as legislation came into force just after the publication of the HBF’s survey. The Gaming Machine (Miscellaneous Amendments and Revocation) Regulations 2018 came into force on 1 April 2019. The new Regulations have reduced the maximum charge for a single bet on FOBTs from £100 to £2. See further on this subject, the post of 22 May 2019 by Laura Donnellan on the GSLTR website.
Cognisance is given to the fact that just over 1,000 people responded to the survey and thus it does not capture betting trends as a whole. When the maximum charge for a single bet was £100 at the time of the survey and only 7% of respondents indicated that they had played FOBTs, the reduction to a maximum of £2 may well yield interesting results in next year’s survey. Given that a sizeable percentage of respondents to the survey were in the 61-80 age bracket, FOBTs is a less traditional form of betting and might be more associated with younger bettors. However, when considering that online betting was the most popular with 95% of respondents (page 5 of the survey), the low use of FOBTs might have more to do with the odds and a seasoned bettor would probably avoid such machines.
Information sources: considering that a high number of respondents fell within the 61-80 age bracket, it is noteworthy that 94% of respondents found racing information on websites and not from daily newspapers (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 5). 73% of respondents would sometimes consult the Racing Post.
Concession preferences: 72% stated that they used best odds guaranteed, with no runner no bet following with 48% and extended place terms at 32% (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 5). This was further broken down into keen and occasional bettors. Keen bettors were defined as those who bet most days, and occasional as those who bet less often (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 11). Keen bettors were more inclined to choose best odds guarantee and enhanced place terms than those that bet on a more infrequent basis (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 11).
Racecourse bookmakers: 61% of respondents stated they used an on-course bookmaker. Factors that influenced the use of an on-course bookmaker included offering good odds, which was deemed very important by 91%; offering good each way terms was deemed important by 71%; for 48% it was the friendly attitude of the bookmaker; and 18% identified the location as an important consideration (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 6).
In running betting: 52% stated they had bet in running in the last year, while 6% indicated that they stopped in running betting in the last year (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 6). The 6% gave a number of reasons for no longer engaging in live betting, including that the ‘pictures were too slow’; ‘it was too difficult’; and ‘too little liquidity’ (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 6).
Going assessments: the survey found that some respondents had concerns about the track surface (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 6). One quarter of those surveyed contended that the official going was inaccurate, 64% contended that the going stick readings were quite accurate, whilst 13% believed it to be very accurate. For 55%, the jockeys’ opinions after riding were quite accurate and 23% stated very accurate. For 54% (quite accurate) and 34% (very accurate) the winning times of races was the barometer of the going.
Improvements to racing for bettors: when asked how racing could be improved, 814 comments were collated and reference was made to faster pictures in order to promote in running betting (Horseracing Bettors Forum Results of Bettors’ Survey, page 7). Another suggestion for improvement related to drink free areas at races and a reduction in the consumption of alcohol at races; better odds/minimum bet guarantee; free entry or reduced entry to racecourses; the publication of horses’ weights; and less racing and better quality racing.
The HBF is a voluntary body which lacks any real powers. Although the BHA acknowledge the survey on its website, it remains to be seen if the survey will result in any changes to the way betting is conducted (British Horseracing Authority, Horseracing Bettors Forum releases bettor survey results, 30 April 2019, https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/horseracing-bettors-forum-releases-bettor-survey-results/). The survey is best viewed as a source of information that may inform policy. It is questionable whether any of the reforms suggested will be taken on board by the BHA.
However, it should also be noted that the survey comes at a time when there is public disquiet over addictive gambling and its financial and social effects, but gambling is the life blood of horseracing. Therein lies the dilemma for policy makers!
Dr Laura Donnellan may be contacted by e-mail at ‘Laura.Donnellan@ul.ie’