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Friday, 19 October, 2018

Scoop6 slump stresses perils and potential of pool betting

The Thursday Column

The Placepot remains a popular form of pool betting
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When it launched 19 years ago it quickly became a massive, exciting new part of the Saturday betting landscape, commanding loads of attention from punters and the media alike. We couldn’t get enough of it. So what has happened to the Scoop6?

It hasn’t quite disappeared but it has certainly lost the magnetic pull that made it such a compelling weekend punting proposition, and in that sense it should act as both a spur and a warning to the two organisations, possibly about to become one, that are attempting to breathe new life into the stagnant world of pool betting.

A spur in that it shows if you create excellent new tote products there is still an appetite for them, and a warning in that if you don’t get the execution right in key areas such as promotion and marketing they can wither as quickly as they grew.

For a large part of the opening years of the 21st century the Scoop6 was up there with with Betfair’s intriguing new exchange and the fixed-odds fightback led by the likes of bet365 as the most interesting aspects of the betting world.

It was a beautifully clever concept that combined the big TV races, a win-and-place element and its key attribute, the rollover mechanism that created the potential to make millionaires out of small-staking punters.

It quickly gained media support with Channel 4 Racing embracing it and the traditional print media doing likewise, giving it the publicity muscle it needed to generate turnover to the extent that high-rolling syndicates would invest vast sums when the pools had swollen into seven-figures territory. It was pretty much perfect.

In 2011 the Tote was acquired by Fred Done, mostly because he coveted its chain of betting shops, and interest in the Scoop6 continued for a while, including when in May 2014 the pool reached a staggering £16m, producing on a single Saturday eight winners who each pocketed more than £1.3m.

But because the Tote’s pool profits were mostly going into Done’s coffers rather than being redistributed to the benefit of the racing industry as had been the case before the sale, Channel 4 took the decision to stop covering it, despite Betfred pointing out that it made annual contributions to the sport of an average of £12.8m.

That withdrawal of publicity took a heavy toll. Instead of punters being made aware of each week’s pool size through enthusiastic mentions on The Morning Line and race-by-race updates during the afternoon live transmissions, the bet slipped silently into the shadows and turnover slumped accordingly.

The Scoop6 still exists and still occasionally wins people life-changing sums. Only two weeks ago a single ticket returned a whopping £533,218, but the pool had taken fully ten weeks to get to that level, a far cry from the golden Saturdays when many millions would be wagered by syndicates and glory-seekers alike.

Alizeti, which has acquired a stake in the Tote, and Britbet, the pool betting operation set up by the majority of racecourses, are looking to bring back the good times, either in isolation or, seemingly likelier, as a fused entity.

If they don’t join forces their chances will be slim and even if they do there is no guarantee of success in a sophisticated marketplace in which pool betting struggles to avoid being left behind.

But the rolling out of clever new exotic bets and a drastic lowering of the win and place takeouts might just get the notion of tote betting back into fashion.

After all, the Scoop6’s former popularity and the ongoing love affair many punters have with the good old Placepot shows if the product is right people will still engage with it.

And from an engagement perspective it can only be good for racing in general if there is a way of showing people, including those who are not regular racing punters, that it is possible for them to have a chance of turning a small sum of money into a huge one.

Joe Ralls (far left) is shown the red card for his cynical foul on Lucas Moura
Cynical fouls need to be kicked out for good

What a pathetic, embarrassing decision by Cardiff City to appeal the red card that was awarded to their midfielder Joe Ralls for a dire foul on Tottenham’s Lucas Moura last weekend.

The appeal was, to nobody’s surprise, rejected and Ralls will serve a three-match ban for one of the most cynical fouls I have seen in a long time.

Moura played the ball past Ralls and would have found himself in a position that carried a major threat to Cardiff’s goal had Ralls not booted him to the ground, leaving the brilliant Mike Dean an easy decision to brandish the expulsion tool despite some pitiful protests from various Cardiff personnel.

Ralls’s foul was not just violent it was also calculating, or professional as the genre is better known, and it is time the authorities took a look at the issue of players deliberately taking out opponents in order to nip potentially dangerous situations in the bud.

A couple of hours after Ralls had flattened Moura, Paul Pogba, far more nonchalantly but with similar intentions, coolly tripped DeAndre Yedlin just as the Newcastle whippet was bursting into United territory.

He received a yellow card rather than the same punishment as Ralls because he had put his foe in far less physical peril in the process of halting his progress, but it was a price well worth paying because the chances of Newcastle turning that situation into a goal had Yedlin not been brought down were high.

This is why a review of how to deal with professional fouls is necessary. Teams are now so lethal on the counter that breaking up such raids is well worth the yellow card it incurs.

And, as is the case with diving, the issue will only be properly dealt with if the punishment for clear tactical fouling is a straight dismissal.

This will obviously not happen but it should because too many attacking situations are being too easily snuffed out and football needs to do all it can to encourage attacking football.

New stand, same old awful Abbaye view

It's lovely and golden now, but whether the new Longchamp grandstand remains as gleaming in five years we shall see.

It will also be interesting to see how full it is on Arc day in 2023 after the, ahem, interesting experience of the first running of the great race since the course was renovated.

The queues for everything were, as has been widely discussed, too long even though the crowd consisted of around 15,000 fewer people than had been hoped for. Had the anticipated number turned up general discomfort could have turned into something even less pleasant.

I won’t be giving up on going to the Arc, although I might be extra careful to have eaten and visited the toilet before I get there in future. Paris is still the most beautiful city on Earth and the Arc is still the planet’s greatest Flat race, a status that was reinforced by Enable’s heart-stopping battle with Sea Of Class.

And I was reassured in a perverse kind of way that despite all the work that has been done at Longchamp it is still comically impossible to have a clue what is going on from the moment the stalls open for the Abbaye to the point when they cross the finishing line.

As ever, a row of temporary stands and the car park completely blocked the view of the sprint course from the stands, and camera angles have not even been changed so it is as confusing as ever for those watching on TV screens.

Just when you think they are about to hit the line they seem to keep going for another furlong or so, making it utterly bewildering for anyone to have a clue who has actually won.

I sometimes even wonder whether the race actually takes place at Longchamp or is some equivalent of Capricorn One, the 1970s movie about a fake Mars landing that is staged in the Arizona desert.

Officials have a chance to staff up and stock up in the new grandstand so that racegoers in 2019 have a far better time, but it will, for as long as racing takes place in the Bois de Boulogne, be a hopeless task trying to work out what the hell is going on when they run the Abbaye.


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Scoop6’s former popularity and the love affair punters have with the good old Placepot shows if the product is right people will still engage with it
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