The scope of horse racing betting was changed forever at the turn of the century with the advent of the exchanges, and that has now filtered through even more considerably in the offerings that the traditional bookmakers have started to offer in order to attempt to keep up.
Betfair always offered the opportunity to “cash out” long before the bookies caught on (it took them over a decade!), and also to cash out some or all of your stake, or to select the guaranteed profit available via the desirable “green screen”. More importantly though, it broke through into what was the forefront of the instant gratification betting that now is embodied on the internet via casinos and instant games, and in the bricks and mortar establishments via the much-maligned Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
This is because Betfair had the foresight to allow you to bet during the race. No longer was it waiting for what you hoped was the best price, striking a wager, and sitting back to enjoy the next few minutes (hopefully!). Now you could change or reverse a position, and this blew the game wide open.
It didn’t take long before the sharpest started to use Betfair at the track – not only for making and hedging a book, but also taking advantage of the (sometimes extremely significant) time delays between so-called “live” pictures on television and the actual real-time activity taking place at the track. Reports of 7 or even 9 second delays in what are now referred to as the “old days” are widespread.
This created an anomaly which is rarely (if ever) recognised in industry publications. There became two ways, simplistically, in which you could get “good at the game”:
1) Speed of execution
2) Race-reading and keeping a cool head/control
Of course, the best of the best have both in spades. Interestingly, however, some in the top bracket (who, these days, pay significant sums in Betfair’s Premium Charge) tend to excel in either 1 or 2, but not both. A great race-reader can make money without the very fastest pictures. A great executor who can access the fastest feeds (perhaps eyes, rather than racetech!) does not need the best-of-the-best skillset at reading races – he or she can simply seek to be better than the average, and this is still enough to make a profit.
What may be frightening to some reading this article is that this practice has continued, unabated (other than by the premium charge, and by some providers being embarrassed into working on improving the speed of their picture delivery) for over a decade and a half now. Many average punters have no idea this sort of thing goes on (and indeed, it may well affect their decision as to whether to bet at all or not in running, although to suggest they make rational decisions when it comes to placing wagers is a stretch too far – hence why they are average punters!).
The world of betting and especially P2P betting continues to expand – and whilst Betfair currently maintains an unnatural monopoly position especially in the UK market, the world is seeing other solutions pop up and aggressively grab market share (Citibet, anyone?). The hope for all involved is that the middleman can take out less commission (whether that’s by the traditional methods or by the premium charge) – currently, strategies are needed to mitigate the premium charge (a topic for another article), and that can take the eye off the ball of attempting to build a best-in-class operation, around horse racing or any other sport.
I’m always interested in further discussions around the issues raised in this article and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!