Bookies see collapse in phone bets after demise of attheraces

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The Independent Online

Bookmakers have suffered a drop in telephone betting of between 20 and 40 per cent in the past few weeks, since the Attheraces horseracing channel went off air.

William Hill yesterday told The Independent that its takings were down 20 per cent since the screens went black on Attheraces on 1 April. The channel, owned by BSkyB, Arena Leisure and Channel 4, was forced to close after failing to generate sufficient revenues. It had been hoped that punters would make bets through interactive television, but most were calling up their own bookies from their sofa.

"Telephone betting is down something of the order of 20 per cent," David Harding, the chief executive of William Hill, said yesterday. "But it is a storm we can weather as it means that more people are coming in to our shops."

William Hill has one of the biggest telephone betting services in the sector, and telephone bets accounts for as much 15 per cent of the business. About 75 per cent of bets placed over the phone are on horseracing.

But analysts reckon some bookies could be suffering as much as a 40 per cent decline in horseracing betting. "We think there has been an industry wide decline of at least 20 per cent. For some companies, the numbers could be even higher and 40 per cent is possible," Paul Leyland, an analyst at Seymour Pierce, said yesterday.

Ladbrokes, which also has a significant phone betting operation, confirmed that the Attheraces closure has hit business. "Our telephone betting is definitely down," Chris Bell, the chief executive of Ladbrokes Worldwide, said yesterday.

Coral Eurobet, Ladbrokes and William Hill are all urging the UK's racecourses to agree to a new free-to-air racing channel. Channel 4 has now pulled out of Attheraces, but Arena Leisure, which owns six race courses, and Sky are in the midst of renegotiating a new deal. They are up against the Horseracing Channel, a rival subscription venture backed by a number of courses.

"A subscription channel would only generate an audience of around 30,000 people," Mr Bell said.

It will be some weeks, however, before any new channel is on the air. Analysts are likely to slash their forecasts for bookmakers if the losses continue.