In the early days of online sports betting, horseracing was the undisputed king. Around 70% of all bets placed online in the early 2000s were on the product.
Bookies happily channelled the momentum from decades of retail-based popularity into online platforms, sat back and watched as the modern era began.
Fast forward to today and there’s a new front-runner in UK gambling. The intoxicating mix of top-flight English football, coupled with the advent of slick user-friendly platforms, has been irresistible to punters, casual and serious alike. The results speak for themselves: official figures from the Gaming Commission show a 10.5% decline in off-course betting between 2009/10 and 2013/14, including from online.
But is that the whole story? Unlike in the US, the waning numbers – though still very high – can’t be blamed on the regulatory climate. In Britain gaming is wide-open – if anything there are too many cooks. And let’s not forget that horse racing is the UK’s second most popular spectator sport. No, I think it’s too simple to put it all down to the rise of EPL betting.
You’ll have to forgive us at FSB for being tech-obsessed. Since 2008 we’ve been leading the field in online sports-betting software. We’ve been at the cutting edge for seven years, driving new technology, riding new waves of gambling habits, embracing new technology and shaping it as well. In that time we’ve watched the way demand has changed and made sure we can affect the supply dynamic to match. We’ve seen things done the right way, and the wrong way.
So inevitably we look to technology for solutions to the horse betting conundrum. For the new generation of sportsbook operators, horse racing has too often been an afterthought. The focus on other sports, particularly EPL, has meant that too many people tack on a horse racing product at the end without really understanding the culture or the technology.
They don’t maximise the financial potential of horse racing, or the enjoyment of it for punters, by offering the full range of betting options. It’s a fault of the operators but I think more importantly, they’re not getting the right advice from the people providing the tech under the bonnet.
We understand that a sportsbook needs to be packed with these details and features; it needs to be driven by statistical information; it needs to be flexible enough that an operator can keep both the seasoned expert and the Grand National flutterer gripped. And in the modern era it all needs to be done in a multichannel, multiplatform, ultra-flexible way, or you will inevitably start losing customers and revenue.
Football betting has adapted to the modern era. Bookies have made the most of the shift by offering the full spectrum of betting options and the convenience that modern technology allows, and they’ve done it all with that splash of colour and excitement that retains loyal users.
Horse racing hasn’t lost its magic. It still summons up the emotion and the passion that its devotees adore, and still has that spark that gets the once-a-year punter fired up. If bookies and operators are going to capitalise, they should start with the basics: getting the technology right. Substandard platforms are a bad bet, and the punters, it seems, agree.