Not Perfect But It Could Be Worse!!

Love them or loath them, bookmakers are an integral part of racing both in the UK and Ireland.

They add to the atmosphere on course, they contribute a significant amount to prize money both via the Levy and through sponsorship. Although it is interesting the Government has hinted they want to completely review the Levy and probably not before time as it was designed before exchanges, the internet and offshore bookmakers were even thought about.

To their supporters they are an essential element of the sport without whom the sport would not survive. To their detractors they are seen as parasites, keen to make as much money from the sport and only paying lip service to supporting the sport and doing all they can to fleece punters.

The truth, of course, is somewhere between the two.

One criticism of bookmakers, especially at all-weather meetings where the markets are inherently weak, is the over rounds are poor and it is almost impossible for punters to get any value. Indeed the ring at some meetings is so weak it is effectively controlled by the high street bookmakers.

Punters rightly complain at books in the mid 100’s for small field contests.

I, however, have made a discovery that makes the bookmakers, even at the all weather meetings, appear positively generous.

Having now done every UK track at least three times I am now aiming my sights higher. My new quest is to go racing in as many different countries as possible.

Latest in the quest is Malta, home to two courses one just south of Valletta on the main island and one on the adjacent island of Gozo.

Last Sunday I visited Marsa racecourse, the islands principal course. Staging mainly trotting with some flat racing, this meeting was an eight race trotting meeting, although meetings with ten race cards are not uncommon.

For punters there is a choice of the Tote or betting with bookmakers.

At the meeting five races had 16 runners, two 15 and one 13. Yet with such large fields the biggest price I ever saw on offer from the bookies was 6/1 and that was only on one horse in a single race. The over rounds were appalling, there wasn’t a single race where the book was below 300%. In one race it was a staggering 391%.

Despite the terrible odds, there were crowds six deep around the bookmakers kiosks, clearly the locals in Malta have no concept of percentages or value.

The Tote prices seemed to be more realistic, with some runners showing indicative odds of 33/1 for example.   

Can you imagine the outcry in the UK or Ireland if bookmakers priced up a 300% plus race – the forums would melt with the heated comments and their pitches would probably be overturned.

I cannot see even the most ardent supporter of bookmakers trying to defend such a book.

So although our bookmakers have many faults we, in the UK and Ireland, should be grateful we don’t have Maltese bookmakers.

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