Most people that attend a race meeting will look to have a flutter on some of the horses at some point during their visit. Betting is one of the big attractions of the sport with punters seeking the excitement that comes with betting on a live event. With well over 1,000 race meetings each year in Britain alone, there is certainly no lack of action to bet on either. Although many people bet on the action online from home, total annual racecourse attendance across Britain remains in the millions and this converts into plenty of people who place bets in person on the day.
When physically at the racecourse, there will normally be at least a couple of different ways of placing a bet on the upcoming events. The possibilities include using the selection of on-course bookmakers present in the ‘betting ring’, an on-site betting shop or using your smartphone to place a bet with an online betting site. We will touch on each of these possibilities but our main focus will be on the on-course bookmakers and how to go about placing a bet with them.
Betting With On-Course Bookmakers
Although an increasing number of people now do their gambling online, you will still find a selection of on-course bookmakers at any given race meeting. Despite accounting for only around 1.4% of total horse racing bets, they remain a fundamental part of the authentic race day experience. As they are unlikely to disappear any time soon, it is well worth finding out how they operate. Betting with them can be a touch daunting for a first-timer, as it is a little less straightforward than placing wagers online, but we will cover all the essential information here.
On-Course Bookmaker Odds
In the betting ring you will find various independent bookmakers all with a large LED screen listing odds for the next race. The odds across the bookies will largely be similar but there will almost always be some differences between them. This is one of the advantages of on-course betting as you can so easily access the best available odds at the time. When betting online, getting the best odds could often mean creating a new account at a bookie you have never bet with before.
For people new to the sport, or those simply not too good with maths, calculating which bookie has the best odds can take a moment. It is very easy to spot that 10/1 is greater than 8/1 but when one bookie is offering 7/4 and another 15/8, it might not be as immediately obvious. If you do find yourself struggling, there are many websites or apps that will convert fractional odds into decimal. Doing so will let you see easily which are the better odds (the higher the decimal number, the better the odds).
Before you dart over to the bookie with the best odds though, bear in mind that there is a skill in timing the bet. In the 30-minute or so gap between the odds appearing on the screen and the start of the race, there will be plenty of movement. That horse you backed at 4/1 ten minutes ago could now be widely available at 6/1. Movements like this are very common and they can be hard to predict as they largely fluctuate depending on where other punters are putting their money. Our advice would be if you see the odds dropping on several bookie boards, nip in quickly before the price drops with the bookie still quoting longer odds. If the odds on your horse seem to be increasing though, you can usually afford to wait it out a little.
How To Place The Bet
When the timing is right, or at least you think it is, simply queue up for the bookie of your choice and wait for your turn. As placing a bet is a speedy process you will not be waiting too long at all before you are next up. When the moment comes, there are just two pieces of information you need to provide the bookie with: the horse you wish to bet on and how much you wish to bet. For the first part, you do not provide the name of the horse, rather you say the number of the runner you wish to back. The horse number will be provided on the LED screen but you can find it on the racecard too.
In this example, Perfect Power is horse number 9 while Ehraz is horse number 3 (bookies will often list horses in odds order as above rather than in numerical order). So, if we wanted to bet £5 on Perfect Power, we would just tell the bookie “five on nine please” or “five pounds on nine please” as you hand over your cash (change can be given).
This would be for placing a win only bet but the other option you have available is an each way bet. If we wished to have a £4 each way flutter on Ehraz, we would simply say instead “four on two each way please”. Remember that this bet would cost you £8 as an each way bet includes a bet on the horse to win and another bet on the horse to place. If you only wanted to bet £4 total you would need to bet £2 each way.
When you have told the bookie what you want to bet on, they, or their assistant behind them, will print you off a bet slip (also known as a betting slip). This bet slip will contain the name of the horse you backed and your potential returns. Keep this safe as you will need to hand it back to the bookie to collect any winnings if your horse does the business.
As there are plenty of casual gamblers present at race meetings, on-course bookies rarely set a high minimum stake. At a lot of meetings, particularly smaller ones, £2 is a standard minimum bet for the win and this is a fairly standard minimum for an each way wager too. It is possible to find those with a £1 each way limit although these are in the minority. At larger meetings, you can expect to find numerous bookies with a £5 ‘to win’ minimum and either a £2.50 or £5 each way requirement. In the vast majority of cases, bookies will clearly state their minimum stakes on their stall so there can be no confusion.
If you are a gambler looking to bet big, upper limits are rarely stated by bookies. It is likely they will have some maximum but this will most likely relate to the payout rather than the stake itself. Some high street bookmakers have a max payout of £1,000,000 for instance, so that would be a £100,000 bet at 10/1 odds or £10,000 at 100/1. As an independent bookmaker cannot generally afford to stump up a seven-figure sum, their limit will be considerably lower. That said, you are very unlikely to find yourself in a position where your bet is not accepted as bookies regularly take large wagers. So, do not think you will be turned away if you want to bet £200 on a 7/1 horse, for example.
What Races Can I Bet On?
The one limitation you have with the on-course bookmakers is that with them, you cannot place bets covering several races. This is because they only provide odds for one race at a time and are not set up for multiple bets, only single bets. What happens is after one race finishes, the odds for the next race at the course will appear within a couple of minutes. This happens throughout the entire meeting, so there is always a large window in which to place your bets (usually at least 25 minutes) on the upcoming event.
You may find that there is a bookie or two offering odds for an upcoming race at another course, especially if there is a big meeting elsewhere. Although this is unlikely to attract any casual racing fans, those with a keen interest may keep an eye on races happening elsewhere in the country. This does give punters another opportunity to bet with an on-course bookie and it is likely that the race itself will be covered by the TVs found within the indoor areas of the racecourse.
Collecting Your Winnings
Should your racing wisdom have enabled you to pick a winner, no matter how large or small the returns, it is time to collect your money. It is unlikely you can do this the very moment your horse passes the finish line. Most bookies will only start paying out when the public address system confirms the winner has ‘weighed in’. This is virtually a formality but it is a necessary check to see if the horse was running with its allocated amount of weight, and was not ‘running light’. When you hear these words, you can stroll up to the bookie you placed your bet with, hand over the bet slip and you will be paid the money in some combination of notes and coins.
If you cannot remember which bookie you initially place the bet with, do not worry as their name, which will be present on their little booth, will be printed on your bet slip. In most cases you should receive the potential winnings printed on the bet slip. The only time this will not happen is if there is a dead heat (two – or more – horses finish the race at the same time and cannot be split by a photo finish). Should this occur then your returns will be reduced, with half what the betslip states in the case of a two-horse dead heat. You will know there is a dead heat as this will be confirmed when the public address system announces the final finishing order.
Other Ways Of Betting At The Racecourse
Although using the on-course bookies is a popular way to place your wagers on raceday, there are other ways to get your bets on at a meeting if this isn’t for you.
Some racecourses will have a familiar big-name bookmaker on-site, usually based inside one of the permanent buildings. These can be particularly handy if you want to make bets across numerous races happening on the course or place wagers on the action happening elsewhere. Others simply prefer them over the on-course bookmakers so it can just boil down to a matter of preference.
At the time of writing, you can also find Britbet shops at 55 British racecourses. These allow punters to place Tote bets on course, giving them a different way to gamble their cash. To briefly cover what Tote betting entails, rather than betting against a bookmaker, punters are effectively just betting against one another. All bets are pooled together and then winners get a proportion of the pooled money in relation to the size of their bet (minus a cut for the Tote itself). There are several different types of Tote bets, such as win only, exacta (picking the first and second horse) or trifecta (picking the top three horses).
Any of you that have been to a crowded event before will know that getting a reliable mobile signal can be troublesome. With so much demand coming from such a small area there ends up being a bottleneck with almost everyone experiencing slow speeds. At busy race meetings, this can make betting on a mobile app a very frustrating experience and not one we would recommend. The rise of free Wi-Fi being offered at courses can help solve this problem, but it does not always.
The reason complimentary Wi-Fi does not always help facilitate mobile betting is not a matter of speed, but a matter of restriction. Some racecourses provide largely open Wi-Fi meaning there is nothing stopping you logging into your online betting account. Other racecourse Wi-Fi services, however, will block users from accessing betting websites/apps, effectively forcing them to use on-course facilities instead. This may seem a little harsh but you have to remember that on-course bookies have to pay for a spot in the betting ring. If everyone started neglecting them in favour of online alternatives then they would stop coming, resulting in a loss of revenue for the course itself, all because of something they kindly offered for free.