Main Menu
Top of Page
Top of Page
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Poker   | News   | Email

Welcome to the News desk.

Frankie Dettori’s Ascot exploits had online firms rushing to sell punters short 24/06/19
Greg Wood
• With a payout in excess of the jockey’s Magnificent Seven on the cards at the Royal meeting, the big firms did no one a favour by refusing multiples

There were some memorable and historic achievements at Royal Ascot last week, including Hayley Turner’s win on Thanks Be in the Sandringham, the first at the meeting for a female jockey since 1987, and Blue Point’s Group One double in the week’s big sprints.

But everything else pales into insignificance when set against Frankie Dettori’s remarkable afternoon on Thursday, when he won the first four races including the Gold Cup and left the bookies staring at a potential payout for a Dettori six-timer which would have far exceeded the £30m for his “Magnificent Seven” in 1996.

In the end, they got out of jail, though it would have been fun to see the faces in the big firms’ trading rooms when Ian Bartlett, the track commentator, yelled that Dettori’s mount Turgenev was “two lengths clear at the furlong pole” in the fifth. And from that moment on at this year’s Royal meeting, some bookies were taking no chances.

On Friday morning, it became apparent that Bet365, the biggest internet-only bookie, was refusing to allow punters to back all five of Dettori’s mounts in the same bet. They turned away anything more than four Dettori-ridden horses in multiples on Saturday too, when SkyBet also joined in, banning customers from putting his three longer-priced runners in one multiple.

This was, on the face of it, an act of extraordinary cowardice, by Bet365 in particular. This is, after all, the firm that paid Denise Coates, its founder and chief executive, £265m in 2017, and £217m the year before that. It was also turning away precisely the kind of bets that any bookmaking firm worthy of the name should be falling over itself to get: casual, price-insensitive money with a huge margin for the layer.

But the modern internet bookie is a very different beast to those that were operating in 1996. When Dettori had his incredible afternoon at Ascot 23 years ago, the pre-internet off-course betting industry did what it could to manage its liabilities, by shortening the SPs of his later runners. Online customers, though, tend to take a price – and why not, when almost all firms offer “best odds guaranteed”, and pay out at the SP if your horse is a drifter?

Online punters also have the option to “cash out” from a bet halfway through. It is, in normal circumstances, a risk-management tool for the bookie, but on Thursday, when the odds on Dettori’s last two mounts suddenly crashed from double-figures to short-priced favourites, the circumstances were anything but.

Dettori was the first jockey to ride four winners in one afternoon at Royal Ascot since Lester Piggott in 1965. The chance he would do it again on Friday, never mind go through the card, was vanishingly small.

But it was not impossible – and Bet365, like other big online operators, has a customer base that is, for the most part, not unduly worried about the true odds in the first place. Why? Because punters who do understand the importance of pricing are hunted down by traders on a daily basis and their accounts restricted or closed.

A huge customer base with a high proportion of price-insensitive punters is, on 9,999 days out of 10,000, an internet bookie’s ideal scenario. On the other, it holds the potential for an existential catastrophe.

Dettori’s exploits on Thursday guaranteed the number of punters looking to back him in multiples would be several times bigger on Friday. If 20,000 punters – a small fraction of Bet365’s total user base – placed bets with a possible £500,000 payout, the potential liability for the layer would have been £10bn.

Bet365 and SkyBet, having teetered on the edge on Thursday when Turgenev was down to 1-3 in-running on Betfair, decided to take a step back on Friday and Saturday. Like Ronald Reagan when it came to hard work never killing anyone, they figured “why take the chance?”

Because they are supposed to be bookmakers, is the obvious answer. But it is what this says about modern betting that is most disturbing. If you exterminate price-sensitive punters, they lose interest and go elsewhere. If you then disappoint the casual punters and refuse their high-margin bets, they will start to lose interest too. And who will be left to bet on racing then?