Kyle Holdsworth takes a look at the history of horse race betting and how it has impacted the sport in Britain.
Photo: Creative Commons License
Talk to most about the horse racing and you’ll likely hear odds, favourites, and quite possibly John McCririck mentioned, and of course that is likely to be in a bookies.
Over the years the sport has become synonymous with betting with the pair walking hand in hand, and has no doubt heightened the profile of the sport tenfold. Of course this hasn’t always been the case.
In a long history of racing, dating back even to the Roman chariots, it wasn’t until British Knights returned from the Crusades on Arab horses that money began to switch hands. More often than not nobility would wager bets on this new foreign breed, with a small town in Suffolk becoming the epicentre of British racing.
Newmarket began to pave the way for betting in the country under James I and by the reign of Queen Anne in the 18th century race courses were developing across the country including Ascot. Since then the sport has become universally popular with the likes of the Grand National watched by an estimated 500 million people, whilst Royal Ascot is one of the most prestigious Flat races in the world.
The royal event welcomes over 300,000 punters every year, with an estimated £400 million bet over the racing week in 2013. And that is only going to continue into this year. Taking place over the 17th to 21st June, hundreds of thousands line up to pick a horse, checking favourites, and taking up offers like Royal Ascot free bets, but not only is it good for the bookies, it’s also economically sound for the sport as a whole.
Last year alone the industries economic impact stood at around £3.45 billion with £710 million being made through gambling, and broadcasting fees are expected to exceed £100 million in the near future.
And whilst this is positive for income in the sport, it could affect other parts, mainly attendances.
The sport is more accessible than ever before, with you only having to walk into a betting shop or switch on the TV or computer to watch live racing instantly. It isn’t just a problem in racing, either; football has seen a downfall in attendances in recent years, but with average crowds down 1,000 in just a decade, it could prove worrying.
Despite this racing is still the second best attended sport in Britain, and accounted for four of the top 10 highest attended events in 2012 (aside from Olympic events), which is particularly important in terms of employment. In 2012 racing employed 17,400 in day-to-day running of the sport whilst including betting and other aspects would take that figure beyond 85,000. To put that into perspective, it’s around the same number that are employed by McDonalds.
And with added investment over the past decade, it leaves racing in a very healthy position. In the past four years particularly £203 million has been pumped into the sport, the majority into racecourses, making a trip to the races a more enjoyable and thrilling experience.
The rise of betting, especially the ease and accessibility of mobile gambling, is helping to continue a genuine interest in racing. The major races are always going to bustling with people enjoying the atmosphere and likes of ladies day, which should carry the sport for many, many years.
Of course betting will be a major part of that. There may be no John McCririck gracing the cameras anymore, but when there’s a wealth of online betting mediums to give tips, who really needs a chauvinistic, jewellery-clad pundit?