Of the many catastrophes that the coronavirus pandemic has brought, for horse racing one of the mist significant negatives has been the absence of on course bookmakers from the sport.
A tradition dating back more than a century, not only has their livelihood been taken away from them but punters have also suffered in the absence of the betting ring odd compilers.
It has meant that the Starting Price (SP) for any given race has been determined by online sources – and, controversially, it has been revealed that will continue even after on-course bookies are welcomed back to the ring.
The Starting Price Regulatory Commission (SPRC), the industry body tasked with deciding the SP, has confirmed that the odds will continue to be set off-course – rendering one of the key functions of the betting circle meaningless.
The group has intimated that they have been planning the change ‘for a number of years’ – even though it has been suggested that punters are worse off under the new model as it delivers slightly stingier prices on average.
Chairman of the SPRC, Lord Donohue, believes that the new system is a ‘better reflection’ of the betting market. “The SPRC has considered this change long and hard,” he said. “We are now confident that the modernised SP system better reflects the market as a whole. Punters can continue to have total confidence in the SP.”
However, the Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF) has been conducting their own research into Starting Prices recorded since Covid hit, and their findings are that punters are worse off for horses priced at 5/4 or shorter and between 4/1 and 15/2 under the new SP measures.
Indeed, the stats would be skewed even further away from the SPRC’s claims but for an unusually high number of winners priced at 14/1 or longer – odds at which the new SP system can work out better for the punter.
In essence, the vast majority of punters are out of pocket now compared to when on-course bookmakers determined the fair odds for a winner.
How are the New SPs Calculated?
The SPRC has used data drawn from the UK Gambling Commission that bets taken on course between 2015 and March 2020 had fallen to just 1.4% of the total amount – therefore the case for a new method of calculation was overdue.
Using ‘off course sources’ to calculate around 90% of their pricing sample, on course bookmakers’ odds will account for around 10-12.5% of the overall analysis – meaning that the SP will be skewed heavily by the prices of online bookmakers.
SPRC have created a digital algorithm, managed by the Press Association, which uses off-course prices set by a number of major bookmakers – William Hill, Ladbrokes/Coral, Betfair/Paddy Power and bet365, to name just a few.
Their data is transmitted to a system known as the ‘Corona bookmaker basket’, which essentially calculates an average of all of those firms’ prices to create an off-course SP – the new industry standard.
However, these odds factor in the bookmakers’ overround – essentially their profit margin – which tends to be a higher percentage than that charged by on-course bookies.