UK Race Track Bookies Conspire to Rip Off Bettors, Says Whistle Blower

Posted on: February 19, 2018, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: February 19, 2018, 01:29h.

On-track bookies in the UK regularly collude to increase the vigorish at events they expect to be largely attended by inexperienced gamblers. That’s according to one on-track bookmaker, who admits he has taken part in such activity in the past but now “deplores” the practise.

Andy Smith of Festival Racing blows whistle on on-track bookies
Andy Smith of Festival Racing claims that collusion among on-track bookmakers is becoming more common. Bookies will regularly offer poor prices on events where they expect a large number of clueless bettors to gather. (Image: Edward Whitaker/Racing Post)

Andy Smith, who takes bets as ‘Festival Racing,’ told The Guardian newspaper that bookmakers often agree before the racing begins to price up their books in a way that will leave more naive customers short-changed.

His comments came in the wake of a report by the Horseracing Bettors Forum that found particularly bad odds had been offered at the Welsh racetrack Ffos Las at an event marketed as “Ladies Day.”

Cooking the Books

While it’s generally accepted by bettors that all bookmakers give themselves a mathematical edge when they price up their books, some edges are greater than others.

In fixed-odds bookmaking, the sum of the probabilities quoted for any given race will always exceed 100 percent. Everything over the 100 percent mark equates to the bookmaker’s theoretical profit.

Normally, they can’t get too greedy because experienced gamblers will do the math, realize they’re getting a raw deal and move on. In a competitive betting market, the margin should be under 2 percent for each runner, but it appears the bookies at Ffos Las felt that the Ladies Day attendees might be not be so perceptive.

Practise Widespread

“Because there’s not many bookies,” Smith said, “it was easy to arrange, let’s think of a word for it … a cartel. A bookie would come and ask you, one of the other bookies. They might say, we’ll do 3 percent the first couple of races, then we’re betting 4 percent.

You might not believe this, but this is not a thing that happens only at Ffos Las. It’s happening more and more.”

Smith says that collusion is more likely to be found in “satellite” betting spots, away from the main betting area.

Mark Kershaw, director at Ffos Las, told The Guardian he was “disappointed” in the bookmakers at his racetrack.

“We try hard to get the racegoers there and it needs everybody at the racecourse to pull together to make sure they want to come back again and have a good experience,” he said.

“I think it was a day when there was a holiday crowd and they thought: ‘We can take advantage,’ but that’s completely wrong. What we want is that holiday crowd to want to come back again. It shouldn’t be an opportunity to short-change them.”