In simple terms, the betting ring is the area of a racecourse in which on-course bookmakers compete against one another to take bets from punters. Think of it much like a site listing top rated online casinos each vying for your custom. Traditionally, the often ‘colourful’, but invariably honest, bookmakers who ply their trade in the betting ring were part of the quintessential British racing experience. Professional punters and those old enough to remember the days before betting exchanges – notably Betfair, which was founded in August, 1999 – may argue that face-to-face interaction in the betting ring is still the only way to bet seriously, there is no doubt that online betting has revolutionised the industry.
The days when serious punters would travel from far and wide to secure value-for-money prices in a strong on-course market are long gone. Nowadays, on-course bookmakers assiduously follow betting exchange prices, which not only reduces their margins, often to unfeasible levels, but reduces the betting ring to a bland, moribund shadow of its former self.
If a ‘proper’ punter can obtain the same price online, there is little point in visiting the betting ring, or even the racecourse, so it is easy to see how money, and liquidity, has drifted away from the on-course layers to the betting exchanges. Declining turnover, and profit, has resulted in fewer on-course bookmakers standing, especially at midweek meetings. In October, 2018, for example, William Hill announced that it was selling all 82 of its betting ring pitches to focus on providing ‘a full retail experience’, via its racecourse betting shops.
Notwithstanding the absence of on-course bookmakers during the coronavirus pandemic, the demise of the betting ring also calls into question the integrity of the starting price system. The current system relies on the availability of ‘good money’ in the betting ring and, in its absence, may eventually become unworkable. Conversely, during this time the best payout casinos online thrived due to the fact that it was one of the few past-times that could carry on unimpeded during the pandemic.