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Scientific Games Sets the Betting Record at Cheltenham Festival

Published: 17th April 2021 11:27


Its annual racing festival is Cheltenham’s biggest and highest-profile event of the year. In 2020, organisers faced criticism for their “show must go on” approach just days before government restrictions would bring the sporting world to a grinding halt. This year’s Festival went ahead behind closed doors and the impact on local businesses was, of course, profound. However, the bookmakers reported revenues that were as healthy as ever, despite race fans only being able to watch and place bets from their homes.


It is yet another indication of how the world has adapted over recent months and adopted to the online economy. Perhaps the biggest winner of all from this year’s Cheltenham Festival was betting provider Scientific Games, which reported a 53 percent increase in betting volumes through its online platform compared with last year’s event.


70 million wagers


In 2020, about 150,000 people attended Cheltenham’s historic racecourse, and hopes are high that in 2022, a similar number will come to town. However, when you look at online betting stats, you can understand why their presence or absence is barely relevant. Even if every one of those 150,000 visitors placed 10 bets during the festival, that would pale into insignificance compared to the 70 million bets placed through the Scientific Games Platform, which powers leading UK operators like Coral, Betfair and Paddy Power.


The total number of stakes was approximately a third up on last year, suggesting that the lack of spectators did nothing to diminish the Cheltenham Festival’s popularity as a spectacle. Average wagers were a modest £7.50, and Scientific Games Senior VP Keith O’Loughlin said this indicates that the majority of bets were being placed by casual punters who were placing a few pounds “just for fun” as opposed to serious gamblers. He added that this is exactly in line with the business’s target market, as it sets out to be first and foremost an entertainment provider. 


A memorable festival


Despite the muted nature of this year’s festival for the local community, Cheltenham once again delivered some enthralling races. There were also some surprises, the biggest of which was Porlock Bay taking the Hunter’s Chase. The 16/1 shot shocked race fans in edging 2/1 favourite Billaway by the shortest of margins.


But overall, the festival was, as usual, dominated by the Irish. Jack Kennedy rode Minella Indo to victory in the Gold Cup for Knockeen-based trainer Henry De Bromhead, who also had winners in the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase. This made him the first trainer in Cheltenham Festival history to win all three of these headline races.


Jockey Rachel Blackmore came so close and yet so far to making more history, as the first-ever female Gold Cup winner. She led the Gold Cup all the way, on Minella Indo’s stablemate, A Plus Tard, but was edged out to finish second by a length and a half, ahead of last year’s winner and bookmaker favourite, Al Boum Photo. Nevertheless, Blackmore had plenty to smile about, with a total of six wins during the festival, which was more than enough to earn her the Leading Jacket trophy.


Online betting is here to stay


We will, no doubt, look back on the 2021 festival as an anomaly as far as the lack of racegoers is concerned. But the betting patterns observed at this year’s festival could be an indication of the shape of things to come.


In Australia, another nation that loves its horseracing, trackside bookmakers are becoming an endangered species, and are conspicuous by their absence at all but the biggest events. Almost nine in ten UK adults own a smartphone, and in the race-going demographic that percentage is probably even higher. In short, there is no more need to queue up a physical bookmaker to place a bet when you are trackside than there is to venture out to the betting shop from home.


Yet convenience is only one advantage that the online platforms bring over more traditional outlets. High competition and low overheads are powerful incentives to offer punters the best odds that they can possibly muster. It’s a far cry from the trackside bookies with their captive audiences of years gone by. The technology provided by platforms like Scientific Games also opens up a world of new horse racing opportunities, including increasingly complex accumulators and live betting, where punters can continue to lay wagers even after the race has started. It’s fast, it’s furious, and it would be completely impossible to do using traditional bookmaker facilities.


Now, with the dust settled, though, Cheltenham can return to its pastoral day-to-day life and wait for next year’s event to come around on 15 March 2022. Be sure to attend – and remember to bring your phone!

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