On-Track Betting Returning to UK Horse Racing for Two-Week Trial Period

  • Betting windows will only be available for owners, as fans are not allowed back yet
  • The trial will be evaluated after two weeks to determine if it can work going forward
  • Cash transactions will be allowed, much to the relief of racebooks
  • UK sports betting increased sharply from May to June
horse race on grass track
Racebooks will reopen at UK horse racing tracks on August 18, as the industry begins a two-week testing period to evaluate health and safety logistics of on-track betting. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Still no fans, though

British horse racing tracks will be permitted to reopen betting facilities this week for the first time since racing shut down in March. The two-week trial period, announced by the Racecourse Association (RCA) after working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), begins Tuesday, August 18.

Racebooks will only be open to owners during this extended test, as racing fans are still not allowed to attend contests in person. Though card payments are preferred because of reduced handling, cash transactions will be available, to the delight of many.

We’re also thrilled that cash will be permitted for bets.”

“We’re very pleased at this positive move,” the British Racecourse Bookmakers Association’s Christopher Hudson told RacingPost.com. “It gives some hope to long-suffering bookmakers who haven’t had any work for months. We’re also thrilled that cash will be permitted for bets.”

Racebook staff will be required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and make hand sanitizer readily available. Once the trial is over, the RCA will consult with Britbet and the Administration of Gambling on Tracks (AGT) to determine the next steps.

Racebooks want to deal in cash

A similar trial was planned for August 1 at Glorious Goodwood, though there were two primary differences: up to 5,000 fans were to be allowed into the event and betting would be strictly cashless. The pilot event was canceled the day before, however, at the order of the government for public health concerns. It was the same announcement that resulted in the reopening of England’s casinos moving from August 1 to August 15.

The prohibition on card-only betting was a major concern for racebooks ahead of the Goodwood event. Cash betting is easier and faster for the bookmakers; implementing new card-based wagering could come with growing pains.

Tim Moore, managing director of AGT, said it was difficult to fill the four racebook slots at Goodwood. In addition to the difficulty in implementing new technology in what has been a cash-based industry, he said that for many racebooks, card-based wagering just requires too many steps.

winnings don’t automatically go back into your bank account”

“It takes longer to take a bet, and a lot longer to pay out, as winnings don’t automatically go back into your bank account,” Moore explained to RacingPost.com. “You have to go back and present the card again and put your pin in, much as you would do if you were returning a shirt to Marks & Spencer, because there’s no integrated software for automatic payment.”

Star Sports’ founder Ben Keith wondered why anyone would bother going jumping all those hoops when they could more easily watch the races at a bar and bet on their smartphones.

Soccer relaunch revives UK sports betting

As wagering starts revving back up at horse racing tracks, the UK’s quickly recovering sports betting industry will be given an even greater boost. According to figures released by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), the total number of bets placed on real events jumped 146% from May to June. Gross gambling yield, also for real events, ballooned 115%. Active customers increased 81%.

At the same time, betting on virtual sports decreased. GGY on virtual sports was down 15% from May to June, as did active player accounts.

Overall, active player accounts in the entire industry declined 5% and average session times fell by a minute to 21 minutes.

The return of soccer in the UK was the primary driver of the surge in sports betting. Specific characteristics of soccer’s restart also played a large role in such a dramatic increase in numbers, including “the high frequency of fixtures following the return of top flight football, some live free-to-air television coverage, and favorable timings in terms of matches being spread out during the day and evening.”