'It's mortifying' - bookies' outrage at decision to keep off-course SP system
The British Racecourse Bookmakers' Association has spoken of its shock at the announcement by the Starting Price Regulatory Commission on Tuesday that the starting price of runners in British races will continue to be determined using mainly off-course prices, even when on-course bookmakers return to the track.
The SP has been formulated using exclusively off-course prices since racing went behind closed doors in June last year. The SPRC said this experience had allayed concerns such a move "would increase bookmakers' margins at the expense of punters", and that overround per race had actually decreased in each month reviewed.
According to statistics from the Gambling Commission, the share of betting taken on-course had fallen to 1.4 per cent in the year ending March 2020, making the case for using off-course prices "correspondingly stronger" than when the subject was last reviewed in 2015.
However, BRBA president Chris Hudson voiced his disappointment on the decision made by the SPRC.
He told the Racing Post: "We are in a feeling of shock. There was meant to be a consultation when this was mooted last year. We wrote to them on February 16 with a detailed question on the future of the SP. Our justifications raised on this have never been answered, nor have we been consulted.
"This is the last thing we wanted in the final days of the financial year, it's mortifying. The justification on the portion of money waged on-course to off-course might be as such, but the fact of it is we have questioned in detail the calculation and we haven't had an answer to it."
Hudson labelled the argument made by the SPRC about the decreased overround per race as "poppycock".
He also pinpointed two examples, Haqeeqy's win in Saturday's Lincoln and Blowing Dixie's success at Southwell on February 7 – where the overround per runner in the race was described as "well above reasonable historical levels" in the letter to the SPRC – against the new off-course SP system.
"Given the fact the Lincoln winner, Haqeeqy, was sent off at an SP of 9-2 and was traded on Betfair at 8.3 per cent, this argument about the overrounds being better is absolute poppycock," Hudson added.
"The overrounds have increased or stayed the same because they're on prices of horses that have no empirical probability of winning – the first two or three in the betting are being really crammed."
Racing Post figures show between June 2020 and March 2021, 1,605 or 1.47 per cent of runners were sent off odds-on at SP, around the same level as the prior 12 month period, which saw 1,624 runners (1.69 per cent) returned at less than evens.
On-course bookmakers will remain part of the betting market when they return to the racecourse, and an element reflecting their prices will continue to be included in the new SP system, according to the SPRC.
The on-course element of the SP sample of track bookmakers is expected to represent around ten to 12.5 per cent of the overall sample. A mechanism will be constructed in the new SP system to incorporate this into the current off-course algorithm and it is hoped it will be completed to coincide with some crowds and bookmakers returning to racecourses.
Lord Donoughue, chair of the SPRC, said: "The SPRC has considered this change long and hard. We are now confident that the modernised SP system better reflects the market as a whole. Punters can continue to have total confidence in the SP."
Horserace Bettors Forum chair Colin Hord told the Racing Post it will begin discussions with the SPRC on the merge between on-course and off-course bookmakers in the new system.
He said: "HBF analyses show that SP bettors are now worse off using the industry SP when betting on shorter-priced horses compared to when SPs were derived solely from on-course bookmakers.
"The HBF will discuss with the SPRC how the on-course and off-course prices will be merged to ensure bettors do not end up with the worst of both worlds."
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