Racing: Courses dig deep for Internet gold

WHEN Graham Parr, the chief executive of Arena Leisure, announced earlier this week that racecourses were planning to run a tax-free Internet betting site, the reaction in some quarters was reminiscent of the pirates in Treasure Island when they think they have found Captain Flint's booty. "Yo ho ho, me hearties. We're going to be rich, I tell you. Rich!

Of course, when the buccaneers started digging, they found nothing but dirt. It seems unlikely that Britain's racecourses will meet with quite the same sort of disappointment, in the long term at least. There is a mountain of earth to be shifted in the meantime, however, and talk of an end to the Levy system, the extinction of betting-shop chains or a launch date based around next year's Grand National, may be wildly premature.

Only one thing is for certain. Parr is a clever and aggressive entrepreneur, who has become a major player in British racing in a very short time. Almost unknown five years ago, his company, Arena Leisure, now owns four tracks - Lingfield, Wolverhampton, Folkestone and Southwell - and has plans to lease Worcester. In terms of race meetings, this amounts to 18 per cent of the entire fixture list.

As such, his plans merit respect. Parr's proposal is to allow a tax-free betting site, UK Racing Online, based either in the United States or Australia, to show live coverage of British racing - both from his own courses and others - to anyone who places a bet. The betting system would be a pari- mutuel, similar to the Tote, with a rake-off from the stakes - perhaps five per cent - returned to the courses concerned.

So far, so plausible. There are technical and political problems, though, in both the short and medium term. "It will be perfectly possible in time," Richard Dinnick, of Internet Magazine, said yesterday, "but next Grand National day would be over-ambitious. Right now, the pictures would not be broadcast standard, and you certainly wouldn't be able to tell who had won in a photo-finish. And then there's always the problem of net congestion, which might block the lines, depending on how many people are downloading it."

Parr, however, insisted yesterday that pictures - of some sort - will be on the net in the spring. "There will be real-time pictures," he said. "They're not quite as good as television at the moment, but they are getting better. There will be high-quality pictures as we move into the new millennium."

There is no doubt that new transmission technologies are on the way. The hottest acronym in the business just now is ADSL, an ingenious way of using existing copper telephone wires which should drastically improve download times and picture quality. It is unlikely to be available before the middle of next year, though, and even then, will probably cost about pounds 40 a month to use. It could be five years or more before its use is widespread. In the meantime, it may be that television, telephone and internet technology will have converged to a point where interactive betting via your TV screen is a reality.

The political problems facing UK Racing Online include how to make sure that all Britain's racecourses, rather than just those owned by Arena Leisure, are involved in the project. Some may be reluctant to support a project which might undermine the domestic Tote, which already contributes significant sums to racecourse coffers.

"We're a trade association, and our job is to deal with things collectively," Morag Gray, of the Racecourse Association, said yesterday. "In this area of the marketplace, it makes sense to work together, but as an organisation, we're not going to team up with one particular operator. The one thing we must avoid is teaming up with one operator on one side and then finding that someone else offers a better opportunity."

At this early stage, Parr is refusing to speculate about the possible returns from UK Racing Online, and while some may pluck figures out of the air, the simple fact is that no one has a clue what its annual turnover might be. The timing of our racing in relation to the big Far East market, the possible disincentive to punters of a five per cent rake-off - other internet sites, remember, are tax-free - and the true depth of the foreign appetite for, say, selling hurdles at Worcester are just some of the variables to ponder.

"We know currently that the world-wide gaming drop on racing is the equivalent of pounds 70bn a year," Parr says. "I would suspect that that would rise, because if people have access to real-time pictures of British racing, they will definitely go for it. We can market the site around the world based on the regard in which British racing is held, particularly in ex-colonial countries, and we know that people in the Middle and Far East will stay up all night to bet on British racing."

There is no doubt that UK Racing Online is a good idea which is only a little ahead of its time. The betting technology is here already, even if the broadcast-quality pictures it requires are not. To realise the wilder predictions of some observers of an end to the Levy system, though, it would need to turn over pounds 1bn a year, which is almost as much as Ladbrokes.

A more plausible scenario is that the racecourses will eventually sell their pictures not on an exclusive basis, but to any internet operator who is prepared to pay the going rate, much as happens with SIS. The net rights will be a valuable new source of income, but not, for the foreseeable future, an alternative to the Levy, or the answer to all racing's problems. In other words, keep digging, me hearties.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Romelu Lukaku scored twice to add to the hat-trick he registered in the first leg in Switzerland
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Recruitment Genius: Print / Warehouse Operative

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Assistant

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Anna Woodward: German Speaking Accountant

£45,000: Anna Woodward: My client is aleading global manufacturer and service ...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower