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Is this really a brave new world?

Those of us who like to bet horses and do not see our betting as part of a ‘fun’ exercise to gladly give away our money have been appalled in recent years by the day-to-day practices of off-course bookmakers: Closed accounts, joke stake offers, and the use of unfair terms and conditions are now a daily ritual, still aided and abetted by government and regulators.  Some of us have become so utterly disenchanted by it all we have decided to become members of ‘JFP’ and campaign for a better deal for punters.

Almost ‘out of the blue’ in December 2014 Coral announced a new initiative by which they promised to accommodate punters with guaranteed bets to lose £5000 on all televised Channel 4 (C4) races.  This was then extended in September 2015 to all races of class four and above at a guaranteed level of £2000.  More recently it was extended again to include all other UK and Irish racing at a guaranteed level of £500. These bets are only available in shops after 11.00am for the latter two sets of races and after 9.00am for C4 races.

So, what do we punters make of this brave new world?  The view of many is to congratulate Coral on at least doing something to appease punters and whilst I would agree that doing something is better than doing nothing, I must admit, that I and some others are distinctly underwhelmed by it all.  Disappointingly, the main racing media do not seem to be reflecting or keen to give us chance to voice our views.  Let me explain why I’m underwhelmed by it all.

  1. The new initiative to provide a better deal for punters applies only to bets struck in Coral shops.
  2. Bets that qualify are WIN only.
  3. Coral are conveniently failing to address the real bone of contention with punters in that bet stakes offered online still remain at joke levels for many, not only with Coral, but throughout the industry, e.g. 10p, 23p, whatever.
  4. Hundreds of thousands of punters live nowhere near to a Coral shop.
  5. Most people, avid punters or not, have to go to work.
  6. My initial research into Coral prices available on C4 races at the start of the new initiative revealed them to be best priced on virtually nothing and seriously uncompetitive in overall prices offered compared to others pricing the same races.
  7. Is there a possible hidden agenda in the Coral inducement to get people into shops to bet horses, i.e. If only a small percentage of those doing so, played the FOBTs for a few minutes, the gaming turnover, thus guaranteed profits, would be enhanced?

In a world where online business is the real growth area for most businesses Coral wish to take us back in time, offering us this new ‘Life On Mars’ experience.  Coral, just like most of the other off-course bookmakers, in my opinion, continue to treat their customers, who show any sort of betting ability, with contempt.  Why should I put on my shoes, get in the car and drive a couple of miles into town, park the car and walk half a mile in the rain to a Coral shop in the hope that a price of a horse I want to bet has held up for half an hour. Why should I go through this ‘sham’ exercise and be told by someone behind the counter, “That horse is now 6/1 not 8/1?”

Ninety-nine percent of informed punters will not be satisfied until there is a genuine attempt to deal with the current state of the off-course bookmaking industry.  Bookmakers have created a self made monster out of online betting by closing the accounts of all those exhibiting even a shred of intelligence with their betting.  All these outcasts come back to bite them, under other names, in a never ending stream.  We now have a situation where a substantial number of those registered to bet online are there in name only; Harry Smith is really Billy Jones, Gladys Higgins is really Gwyn Evans, and so it goes on.  A murky world of lies, deception, duplicity, spying, mistrust and cheating; off-course bookmakers alone created this malaise.

What I see as PR gestures from Coral, albeit welcomed by some, are unlikely to do anything to deal with the real issues in the short term.  Nevertheless, even I’m willing to admit, it may be the first light at the end of a very long tunnel, but until other bookmakers begin to follow suit in shops, on the phone and online, these unfair, market restricting practices, will not end.  Why can European bookmakers offer a minimum bet on all horses to everyone, if those races are run in New South Wales, using their Australian subsidiaries, some of which are doing very, very well, but not to UK and Irish punters?  Whilst this blatant discrimination continues to exist, our off-course bookmakers really do not deserve our support.

Until all the off-course bookmakers restore some real integrity to the world of sports betting then those of us who have been shouting and making lots of noise these past few years will not be silenced.  As for walking to a betting shop in the rain on a dark December day in the hope they haven’t cut the price of a horse I want to bet, then I’m afraid you can count me out, because I know from many years of experience, if you don’t get the right price, you don’t have a chance of winning medium term.  Yes, it’s as simple as that.

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