Bookies vow to win back punters with safe bets

Grand Prix row prompts introduction of novelty wagers. Martin Biddle reports
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The Independent Online
BOOKMAKERS are introducing a series of novelty wagers to win back disgruntled motor-racing punters who deserted after last week's controversial Grand Prix.

The stakes are high for the bookies, for although motor racing pulls in less than one per cent of the pounds 66 million sports betting industry, it is the first step to a betting life for many punters.

With the casual risk-taker in mind, Coral will introduce "winning distance" forecasting at the Brazilian Grand Prix on 29 March, in which punters predict the distance the winner will win by.

William Hill and other bookmakers, who usually give odds on individual drivers only, have already said they will introduce team betting on Formula One teams for the race.

The moves follow last Sunday's Australian Grand Prix, when David Coulthard let his McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen finish first. The team had agreed that whichever driver was first out of the first corner would be allowed to win.

"We believe that turnover is going to fall, possibly by as much as pounds 10,000 across the industry, because of the race, and we are putting our efforts into introducing more interactive bets in an attempt to stop people giving up betting altogether," Coral spokesman Simon Clare said last week.

"In terms of introducing new people into betting shops, sports betting is the general way people first try a bet - for example on golf or the Grand Prix," he continued. "It does not take a lot to make the casual punter stop betting. Once people start having a lack of confidence in what they are betting on, that's it and the result could be devastating for all sports.

"This is one sport where we need a Government health warning. A lot of people consider watching paint dry more fun than watching the Grand Prix. It is up to us to try to come up with fun ideas to enjoy the race."

But novelty wagers are unlikely to win over punters such as Peter Beardshaw of Great Barr, Birmingham, who rarely watches motor racing unless he has placed a bet.

"I won't do it again, because of Sunday's result," he said. "What's the point? If there was anything like that in horse racing the Jockey Club would be down on people and somebody would be banned for life."

Ladbrokes spokesman Ed Nicholson said that with three teams dominating the Grand Prix, betting on teams was an "unattractive proposition". He said other sports were safe from team betting, insisting there was no chance Britain would adopt the French horse racing "coupling" system which allows bets on individual owners.

"In France it is based on totes on the course and horses from owners are coupled together. We deal in fixed odds. All horses should be ridden out to obtain the best position with the aim of winning the race," he said.

The Home Office declined to take part in trying to solve theproblem, saying the Betting and Gaming Act, 1960, allowed bookmakers to make the decisions.