Amid the most testing conditions that on-course bookmaking has ever faced, the parent company of Ladbrokes and Coral have announced their plan to sell off all 106 of their pitches across the UK and Ireland.
GVC Holdings have revealed their intention to remove the on-course betting arm of their business entirely, in a move that trading director Tom Ritzema described as ‘very sad’ and one that ‘had not been taken lightly.’
One of the leading independent operators, John Hooper (trading as Sid Hooper), has confirmed his intention to acquire the 85 pitches in the UK and 21 based in Ireland, but the loss of two of the biggest brands in betting from the ring is another untimely blow for the industry.
“GVC remains totally committed to horse racing, with a significant race sponsorship portfolio under the Ladbrokes and Coral brands, and we are the biggest single provider of betting revenues to the sport,” Ritzema said in a statement. “A number of factors combined to lead us to conclude that a presence in the racecourse betting ring is no longer a strategic imperative for our two UK brands.
“The volume of business taken through the racecourse pitches is minuscule, compared to the volumes generated in our off-course retail and digital businesses, and we no longer use the operation to hedge into the racecourse betting ring.”
It is believed that 17 employees will now face losing their jobs, although GVC hopes to redeploy them elsewhere within the organisation.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Ritzema denied that the coronavirus pandemic – and the prolonged absence of punters from racecourses – was a major factor in their decision. “The current situation with Covid-19, and racing behind closed doors, expedited the decision but was not one of the factors behind it,” he said.
The Sad Decline of a Proud Old Game
With more and more punters able to access the very best odds on the go on their phones, it’s little wonder that the old art of on-course bookmaking is taking a hit.
The industry has been decimated in recent years as it is, and when you factor in the behind closed doors nature of racing at the moment – only a handful of track bookies are currently allowed in the UK, while courses are closed to non-essential staff in Ireland – in truth it could be a while before things can, if they ever will, return to normal.
To make matters worse, GVC are considered to be one of the sharpest operators in the business, and their abdication of the betting ring could be the catalyst for other major firms also pulling the plug.
Many on-course bookmakers are sole traders – family men and women for whom laying bets is their solitary source of income. It is likely to be months until they can return, and even when they do will things ever be the same? The industry-led SP system has been implemented in their absence, and that narrows the importance of on-course books yet further.
These are dark times for many, but the loss of the market makers at trackside is another major calamity for horse racing.