David Prosser: Don't forget the bookies always win

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The Independent Online

Outlook Could this be a belated Christmas present to Britain's bookies from the men (they're all men) who run British horseracing? Apparently, young people are too stupid to cope with fractional odds such as 15/8, 7/2, 100/30 and suchlike, so Racing For Change wants to sacrifice these quaint little anachronisms on the alter of decimalisation. So instead you'll get 1.875/1, 3.5/1 and, well, 3.3333333 (ad infinitim)/1 .

Presumably, this is aimed at making it easier for a new generation of racegoers to understand betting prices. Cue John McCririck with the point that this will allow the bookies to make hay. Under the current system, if they want to push a price out from 7/2 on the course, the only place they can go is 4/1. With decimal odds, the temptation will be to boost margins by, say, easing the price to 3.6/1 first, and then 3.7/1 and so on.

Well maybe. It's worth noting that where decimalisation has been introduced in other markets, it has tended to squeeze margins rather than increase them. British bookmaking is fiercely competitive and decimalisation could ultimately work in favour of the punter because it will make it easier for firms to attract business by offering prices that are a point or two better than rivals.

Many bookies already offer decimal odds through their websites and report that fractional versions are far more popular (which all goes to show that young people might not be as stupid as the Cholmondley-Warners that run racing seem to think). Quite apart from how such a change might be enforced. This being Britain, it won't be hard to find some grizzled old turf accountant, taken with the idea of becoming a latterday metric martyr. Still, if the racing industry feels in need of some publicity, that should do the trick.

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