Racing: Superbet with no name is upon us

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The Independent Online
YOU UTTER the word "Superbet" at your peril in Tote House these days, since the idea that a single, Lottery-style pool bet could come riding to the rescue of the racing industry is no longer accepted by those who would have to administer it.

Yet something very similar to the concept which many in the sport have been promoting for years, a weekly bet with small stakes and huge potential returns, may now be in sight. The format has been all but decided - find the winners of six televised races each Saturday. The technology is in place and the software is on order. The name of the new flutter, in fact, seems to be one of the few remaining uncertainties.

Next summer is already pencilled in as a launch date for what, in the continuing absence of anything better, can only be referred to as the Superbet. Its viability will depend on the BBC and Channel 4 between them being able to provide six suitable races each Saturday, but if a dependable programme can be established, the technical problems will be relatively minor.

Tote Direct terminals, which operate on very similar principles to those which process National Lottery tickets, are already in place in thousands of betting shops, including those owned by Ladbrokes and Coral. The concept of marking off six numbers on a computerised slip is also now familiar to the general public, including those who would not normally cross a bookie's threshold. These potential horse-racing punters will be the vital target audience of the new bet.

"The challenge is to reach out to sporting-minded people, as well as the racing public,'' Rob Hartnett, the Tote's public relations director, said yesterday. "Something is likely to come on line during 1999, and the across-the-cards Jackpot is the most likely option."

While the appeal will be as broad as possible, however, the Tote is keen to play down any possibility that the new bet could be Camelot's baby brother, in either the short or long term, with much of the profit being returned to racing.

"Realism is important," Hartnett said. "We wouldn't launch it if we didn't think that it was going to be a success, but it's a question of how you determine success. In the past there have been some wildly optimistic forecasts of what this sort of bet could achieve, but that is certainly not going to come from a bet of this type."

As a part of its long-term product portfolio, though, the new bet could help to ease the suspicion which grips British punters at the mention of pool betting. They may never be entirely weaned off their SP habit, but for those whose standard bet is, say, a TV Yankee, a small-stake, big-return bet could be an alternative.

It has not gone unnoticed in the country's betting shops that the Trifecta, launched by the Tote last summer, is outperforming the bookie-sponsored Tricast so significantly that faces at Ladbrokes must be turning the same colour as their corporate logo. The Tote, to its credit, is running adverts to re-enforce the fact.

When it comes to getting a good deal, punters are not nearly as daft as many people suppose. The Superbet may be about to demonstrate that, when faced with the possibility of a huge payout, their resistance to pool betting has been overstated too.