Racing: Courses dig deep for Internet gold
Thursday 26 August 1999
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.
Latest in Sport
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao live: Mayweather puts on defensive masterclass to win by unanimous decision
What time does Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao begin on Sky Sports Box Office?
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao: What time does the fight start and what channel is it on?
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao: Only 132 pubs in the United Kingdom will show the fight - so where can you watch it?
Floyd Mayweather beats Manny Pacquiao by a unanimous points decision - but Pacquiao thinks he should have won, saying 'he did nothing'
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...
£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...