When the first national lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020, ‘normality’ came to a standstill as every sector of society was affected by the stay-at-home directive. And the world of sport including horse racing, which contributes around £4.1b annually to the UK economy, ground to a sudden halt.
One year on and we look at how Covid-19 affected the horse betting scene.
Impact on races
The ripple effect of the first national lockdown was immediate, with one of the world’s most famous race meets, The Grand National – which generates an estimated £250m in betting revenue – was cancelled before other key races followed suit. For almost three months, no racing was allowed, and racetracks stood empty. The impact on the 60 racecourse venues across the UK was significant, with course staff as well as off-course businesses, including trainers, yard teams and jockeys deeply affected. High street bookmakers also had to shut their doors.
Ingenuity always comes to the fore during a crisis and this period saw the profile of virtual races online rapidly grow, as bettors looked for new ways of placing their bets and bookmakers worked to offer alternatives to what would have been an exciting 2020 horse racing season.
The return to racing but behind closed doors
As the first UK lockdown started to ease and a plan was put in place for the gradual lifting of restrictions, horse racing was one of the first sports to resume – although it had to be behind closed doors. The first race fixture was held on 1 June at Newcastle Racecourse with no spectators in attendance. The closed-door policy continued throughout the 2020 UK horse racing season and remains in place for the 2021 season until May 17 at the earliest, as the Government’s Roadmap out of Lockdown continues to unfold.
Impact on high street bookmakers
Covid restrictions have had a significant impact on the High Street, with non-essential shopping banned until June 2020. The second wave in Winter 2020 saw non-essential shops closed again in October and then again in early January, with this shutdown still in place. The cost to high street bookmakers is significant, as sports bettors make the move to online. GVC Holdings, who owns the Ladbrokes brand, has estimated that they stand to lose around £43m from retail income due to the lockdown restrictions and ongoing non-essential retail rules. And this is just one of the six main bookmaker brands found on the high street.
The role of online bookmakers for the racing industry
But for horse betting in general, it is not necessarily all doom and gloom, as the industry is benefiting from the widespread growth of its digital platforms during the pandemic. And with the resumption of racing (albeit behind doors), which is great news for the horse racing industry, there is plenty to capture the attention of the online sports bettor. If you, like many others, get a little confused about how odds on bets work, you can input all odds on the horse bet calculator and it will show you actual profit, money made from each way bets etc.
What happens next
Under the UK Government’s current Roadmap out of Lockdown, limited entry of spectators to sporting events is unlikely until May 17 at the earliest, and even this date is subject to change. But with the success of the ongoing vaccination programme and the imminent roll out of home testing, pilots are also being planned for test events ahead of bringing spectators back into sporting arenas. The FA Cup Final and the World Snooker Championship are among the events being lined up as pilots, potentially paving the way for the return of larger sporting crowds, including racegoers, later this summer.
Coupled with the planned re-opening of the high street for non-essential shopping from April 12 and the 2021 race season now up and running, there are signs of some sort of normality and ultimately recovery could soon return to the UK horse betting scene.