Racing: Racing world remains divided over betting exchange revolution

In a week in which racing has been shaken by Kieren Fallon's failure at Lingfield, Sean Fox's fall at Fontwell and Alan Berry's lame filly at Carlisle, laying the blame for all the sport's ills with the betting exchanges has been the most consistent chorus.

In a week in which racing has been shaken by Kieren Fallon's failure at Lingfield, Sean Fox's fall at Fontwell and Alan Berry's lame filly at Carlisle, laying the blame for all the sport's ills with the betting exchanges has been the most consistent chorus.

The business of exchange betting is the unwanted new arrival in a business realm which has existed quite comfortably for 40 years or so. We should perhaps not be surprised at the reception it has been given in some quarters. "They've taken our money," squeal some traditional bookmakers as they complain that the exchanges enjoy favourable taxation terms.

Exchanges, or person-to-person internet betting, allows punters to bet with one another: to wager on a horse to win, or to lose. It is the latter which has come into focus in recent days. There were exchange patterns which suggested that Fallon and Ballinger Ridge would be beaten at Lingfield last week, when the champion jockey dropped his hands. Fallon has been banned and a further investigation is under way.

This overlapped with the Lancashire-based trainer Berry being charged with a serious offence over the defeat of one of his horses last year after it, too, drifted badly on the betting exchanges. Were they evidence that those in the know can take straight punters straight to the cleaners?

The betting exchange is a relatively new phenomenon. The main players are Betdaq, Sporting Options and Betfair, with the last named the most significant outlet. Betfair was founded in June 2000 with £1m of private money, and gradually eased itself to a turnover of £30,000 a week. By April of the following year that figure was up to £1m. Today, Betfair matches bets between punters and layers in excess of £50m a week.

It is a business miracle, built on the choice and generous prices it provides for punters. The question now is whether it means there is a far bigger price to pay: are the exchanges helping to facilitate wrongdoing in racing?

Greg Nichols, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Board, certainly believes so. "Recent events have drawn further attention to the new and very real threat to racing's integrity posed by betting exchanges, which leave the sport more vulnerable than ever before to malpractice," he said yesterday. "Exchanges have opened the door for unlicensed, anonymous individuals, in Britain or anywhere in the world, to profit directly from a horse losing.

"After a straightforward registration process, people can make money from horses not winning. The result is increasing reports of irregular betting patterns relating to losing horses. These are having a damaging impact on racing's reputation.

"Recreational layers on a betting exchange should be distinguished from non-recreational layers by the size and/or frequency of their laying over a specified period, whereby non-recreational layers would be deemed to be in the business of betting and would require a licence, awarded on the basis of a 'fit and proper' test."

The exchanges say they have done all they can. Last June, Betfair and Sporting Options agreed to a "Memorandum of Understanding" with the Jockey Club, which means that, for the first time, punters' records will become available. It is a racing version of the overturning of the Hippocratic oath.

"We can name names. We can put the faces to the bets," Tony Calvin, the Betfair spokesman, said yesterday. "We have a sophisticated audit trail, by which we can build up a betting pattern to the nth degree and pass on the results. Then it's up to the relevant sport's governing body to regulate their own sport."

This arrangement is less well appreciated by rival bookmakers. "The Memorandum is all well and good. You can trace who has profited, but unless you can confirm a relationship between that person and a jockey or trainer you have absolutely no proof," Simon Clare, the Coral spokesman, said yesterday. "This bloke could be sitting in Hong Kong, Kazakhstan or the Virgin Islands. How does the Jockey Club police the sport in those circumstances? It would have to have twice the resources of Interpol. They are going to find it extremely hard to catch anyone even vaguely organised.

"Betfair don't actually have a duty of care. The people who are defrauded on Betfair are the other customers. It doesn't cost Betfair themselves a penny. In the old days, if a coup was landed or something dodgy happened it was the bookmakers - the big, bad bully - who got the beating.

"Dodgy things happening in racing are not new, but if you asked any punter in a betting shop about the number of suspicious or strange cases over the last year I'm sure they would tell you it's more frequent: weird performances from favourites and horses drifting badly before they lose.

"The simple fact that anyone can now profit considerably from a horse losing threatens the integrity of the sport. That threat has grown with the exchanges. They are providing the quick and easy platform for the cheats. If they didn't exist British horseracing would be in a far safer state than it is today."

Rob Hartnett, the Betdaq managing director, questioned the cause and effect element of the racing trauma of the last few days. "The exchanges are being tarred as being in some way responsible for these events, but I would make the argument that we [exchanges] are doing more than anybody else to try and bring these things to light and out in the open," he said.

"We are straight on to the Jockey Club if we think there is anything suspicious about the running of a horse and we will work with the Jockey Club to make sure those patterns are either ruled in or out as part of any investigation.

"If only from a commercial point of view, it is vitally important for an exchange that people who are out there and putting the bets on have confidence in the sport.

"In the long term, this will all be for the good of the sport and I am confident when we look back in history, we will see these episodes as significant."

To one punting man in the street, albeit a rather serious one, it is not the exchanges per se which are to blame, rather some of the people which use them. "It's the purest form of betting that's ever been invented. You could not get a simpler system: one person wanting to lay a horse and one person wanting to back it. It's absolutely perfect and cannot be improved upon in any way," Dave Nevison, the notable professional punter, said yesterday. "The betting exchange is nothing other than the conduit. It's just that some people use it in a scurrilous way. But that has gone on for time immemorial. There have always been ways of profiting if you were in the know in advance.

"To say the exchanges are detrimental to racing is like saying motorbikes are necessarily dangerous to your health, that people should not have fast cars because they might get killed driving them."

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'