Gone are the days when you had to fight your way into the bookies to place your bets. The place was filled with smoke and the only form of communication with the racecourse was from a loudspeaker on the wall and even this sometimes crackled, splattered and died. At that point you relied on the bookmaker behind the counter to quickly pickup the phone and relay the odds to his man chalking up the odds on the board. He knew that he didn’t have much time to get reconnected before the punters started to give him aggro. There were times when he had to relay the commentary of the race over the phone to the punters in his shop.
I do recall on one of these smoke filled days I had a heated discussion with an Irish friend who was going to win money. He had backed Arkle and spent most of his time before the race and during trying to convince me how great his horse was; I on the other hand had backed Mill House. The outcome of the race was that I won. My friend didn’t look too unhappy about his horse not winning perhaps he knew something I didn’t. Mill House, a great horse, but he was never able to beat Arkle again. So what does that make Arkle? There are many more great horses and exciting races I can reel off from the past, but I won’t. Let’s return to present.
Today, when you open the door to the bookies, you see a different animal altogether. Gone is the man with the chalk, instead plastered on two walls of the shop there are banks of monitors displaying vast amounts of different information. There are still some things on display which you my think are from the past, for example the papers with the runners and form, you may be fooled into believing these pages are from the Sporting Life but no, they are only a facsimile. From behind the counter the two lady assistants look up from their conversation to see which new customer has entered their shop, after you start to blend in with the other three customers they return to their conversation.
On the floor a nice carpet, (back in the old bookies you would have a problem noticing what kind of covering was on the floor being it was so crowded) there’s a copy of the Racing Post floating about for you to read and toilet facilities. Every now and again one of the assistants offers the punters in the shop a cup of tea or coffee which are all good ideas. You notice I said assistant not bookmaker as everything in the shop is controlled from HQ (wherever that may be), and what has revolutionized this change? The computer.
I’ve only just returned from a long break away from horseracing, I do recall before my break the betting shops staring to use crude graph simulated races when bad weather struck. This was to keep the punter happy when the real thing was not available. Since then the graphs have become more sophisticated and they almost look like the real thing. So some bright spark hoping to be elevated up the ladder of success, one day at HQ said “Why don’t we use simulated racing all the time. It won’t cost us anymore.” They even provide a human to do a commentary on the races. At times the enthusiasm he generated during the race would put to shame any Italian commentators coverage of a football match. To anticipate any disappointment there may be in the race that’s just finished he adds a few comments on how the race was run. The one that stands out in my mind and made me burst out laughing was when I have heard him criticising a jockey for leaving it too late with his challenge, and that’s why he possibly didn’t win. I think you’ll find it’s the computers random number generator plus some software that has determined the outcome. What has this to do with horseracing, nothing. By all means put it on their slot machines to be played as a game of chance but don’t display this game on the same screens as real horseracing. By doing this they are belittling everybody associated with horseracing.
Don’t get me wrong I think some innovations in the shops are good (No Smoking, Toilets and Tea) but like the newspaper industry that have to hand out discs of various
kinds with their papers to encourage their punters, so must the bookmaker shops with their cups of tea. I’m afraid they are both losers and on their way-out.
To be continued