Horse racing, which remains a popular sport in pockets around the world, has not been spared from the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It was allowed to continue in the likes of Australia and USA, but has not yet been given the green light to return in the UK and Ireland, which is one of the biggest territories in terms of the sport’s popularity. The changing financial dynamics are also making it difficult for many people to invest, or continue to stay invested in the sport. Prize money from competitions has been reduced, while the breeding industry, as well as horse sales, have also plummeted.
Another huge financial impact has been seen in a related industry, the betting industry. Betting on horse races is extremely popular and lucrative, but in the absence of live races, sports betting providers are struggling. It is therefore no surprise that there have been virtual racing events which have been created in order to provide some sort of a product for these betting operators. Some of these ventures provide horse racing events along with greyhound and harness races, based on real-life data from the actual events. This is just one example of virtual reality or online events coming to the rescue in the betting and gambling industry; we have also seen how the possibility of playing in a real live casino online has managed to draw customers to many online casino game websites, in the absence of physical casinos which were shut for months during lockdown.
Despite these efforts, the betting industry in general has suffered for the greater part of the year. Horse racing is the second-most watched and gambled on sport in the UK, behind football, which should show the impact the current situation has had on betting firms. Despite not being very widely covered on general sports apps and TV channels, horse racing remains popular, which has translated into ringing cash registers at bookies. There will have to be a huge turnaround for bookies to be able to recover from the losses of this year.
The Grand National, which is the biggest horse racing event in the UK, was cancelled, along with football, thus taking away two of the biggest revenue generators for betting firms in one go. It could have been even worse – the Cheltenham Festival, which is the biggest betting week of the year for horse race betting sites in the UK, was held in mid-March, despite the ongoing presence of COVID-19 on British shores. It was the last major event to be held before lockdown was imposed, but it probably managed to stave off the worst for betting providers.
While the major betting companies still have huge cash reserves, with directors still being paid multi-million pound salaries, profits have taken a nosedive across the industry, and so there will need to be some measures taken to recover them. There is likely to be some sort of margin taken from the customer in the medium-term, with any differences likely to be subtle. The fear is that companies may begin to change odds materially towards their favour, and it is hoped that the situation does not deteriorate to this level. However, there are some measures which will reduce costs for the companies as well. Credit cards are no longer allowed on online betting sites, which will reduce their costs in terms of the fees they had to pay those credit card companies. Further, betting advertisements are not permitted to be aired during live sports matches, which will be a silver lining as getting those ad spots costs a fortune, which will now be saved. It is thus hoped that these changes will allow betting companies to ride out the worst of this situation without having to hurt consumers.