If I were a Betting Man

Actually I am.  So I always look forward to the Cheltenham Festival – four days of fantastic atmosphere, compelling races and…..mind-blowing technology?

Not a phrase you’d probably most associate with horse racing, but I was lucky enough to attend the Betfair Gold Cup on Friday and, mid-flutter, I got to thinking about the extent to which technology has made an impact on the betting industry.

Betfair launched in 2000 and has since gone on to become the largest online betting company in the UK.   Their ‘exchange’ format puts the punter in control by allowing gamblers to bet at odds set by other gamblers, rather than by a bookmaker.  Betting against other people means you can choose whether to back (bet for something) or lay (offer odds to other betters).

Suffice to say that everything they’ve done has been enabled by technology.  And by allowing the general public to become market-makers, Betfair changed the face of horse racing and other sporting events.  Many high street bookies are now as much about gaming as they are betting.

Another massive trend that owes its adoption to technology is the growth of live betting (or ‘in-running betting’ as it’s known in the industry.)

The challenge for many with in-running betting is that TV pictures are typically delayed by a few seconds (wonder if we have Janet Jackson’s half time Super bowl ‘wardrobe malfunction’ to thank for that), and that can make all the difference with odds changing dramatically in a matter of seconds.

To give you an example, racehorse owner Graham Wylie (who also happens to be TSG’s Chairman and Founder) had the favourite, Back In Focus, running in the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase.  His odds were 9/4 before the race took place.

At one point during the race in-running betting shifted from 9/4 to 150/1 as Tolfino Bay seemed to have the race in his grasp.  Happily for Graham, Back in Focus made a late charge to take the win (though I’m still cursing myself for not putting an in-running bet on….)

Clearly, those who are at the course or have a live feed are placed at a greater advantage (assuming they know what they’re doing of course), as everyone else wonders exactly what is happening, only to have everything revealed a few seconds later.

It’s another great example of technology offering a real competitive edge, and I’m sure the increase in the number of people sitting with 3G enabled devices at tracks around the country is no great coincidence.

It also meant that I didn’t feel out of place using my new toy, a HP Elitepad (more of that in a future post).