First there were bookmakers – shops that appeared on high streets in the 1960s. For a long time they ruled the betting landscape. However, 40 years later a new form of competitor emerged and life wasn’t quite so easy anymore.
This competitor came in the form of online bookmakers, fuelled by the .com boom and the need for innovation in the industry pureplay operators such as Betfair, Sportingbet and bet365 became overnight successes – although they would undoubtedly say it wasn’t quite that simple.
While the retail division of many bookmakers still remains their largest sector, the gap is narrowing. Figures from H2 Gambling Capital show that while the percentage of the UK sports betting market online was just 9.7% in 2003, it stood at 24.3% for 2011. Furthermore this figure is expected to continue to rise for some time yet.
As the times are changing so are the people, even into the betting shops themselves the scene is changing dramatically. Where old men with roll up cigarettes and the daily newspaper once sat are younger and more technologically savvy punters with touch screen phones and nicotine patches.
Now that most bookmakers have finally taken the hint and embraced the digital age outside of betting shop, the next step is surely to do the same inside.
This is a step that some within the sports betting industry are now looking to take – a step which has been addressed by a number of companies, of whom the Racing Post will be among the most recognized.
Richard Thorp, B2B operations manager at the Racing Post, explains that modernising is certainly something that bookmakers are now looking to do.
He says: “Bookmakers will have to adapt with the times to attract a new audience and quite a few of them already are doing so.
“The spaces are more comfortable and brighter, the screens tend to be in HD and there is a better focus on customer service.”
Thorp is behind the Racing Post’s attempts to further the adaptation that he speaks about and has done so with the Racing Post Digital Screens. The screens, which were on show at the International Casino Exhibition last month, are touch screen and provide a number of services for horse racing, football and greyhound punters.
Once connected to the wall and the internet they allow the user to view statistics, form and even ritual horse races of future races with the results based on predictions.
So far Thorp says that the response from bookmakers has been very positive. He explains: “There has been a lot of interest and two of the major bookmakers have already put in orders.”
But the Racing Post aren’t the only company trying to modernise the bookmaking world, MRG Systems have also created a digital touch screen product for stores. Theirs is named the Dailyform screen and makes use of content provided by the Press Association and offers users news concerning a wide variety of sports.
Darren MacDonald developed the Dailyform touch screens at MRG and he agrees that the modernization of retail bookmakers is something that needed to happen.
He explains: “Betting shops need to take full advantage of improvements in technology both with added functionality (touchscreens, HD displays etc) and with reduced costs.
“Information currently available online needs to be available in shop. A lot of independent bookmakers use Oddschecker for example to ensure customers get the best available price.”
In-Play in Store
Looking forward, online sports betting may have inadvertently given the retail sector a boost with the development of in-play products.
The line between retail and online betting continues to be blurred with Buzz Sports taking an interesting approach to combining the retail and in-play worlds.
Their zone play betting products, while originally intended for online and tablet use have now been placed in small portable handsets. Handsets that could easily fit into a bookmakers store and provide retail customers with a level of in-play betting that has never been possible before.
Simon Oaten is a director at Deloitte and Betting and Gaming sector leader. He boldly predicts that mobile and retail betting will become ever closer in terms of working together and competing against each other.
He explains: “In five years time operators are going to know exactly where you are so if you walk into a betting shop in the UK and you’ve got some sort of app then it’s going to be beeping in your pocket.
“Then by looking at the sporting events currently taking place it will tell you that you that the bet you could be about to place at whatever odds in the shop could be placed with another operator at a better price on your mobile.”
Situations such as this may actually not be so far off. They will create even more competition for the retail bookmakers who now certainly can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Fortunately, if MRG and the Racing Post are anything to go by then this won’t be the case.
Thorp admits that there’s much to be done: “In-play products will drive customer retention and these plus betting are the features we will be focusing on this year.”
“We believe that the digital age enables bookmakers to provide more information to their customers in a cost-effective manner,” says MacDonald.
For the first time in more than 50 years there are big changes taking place inside bookmakers’ stores. These changes have been forced by the rise of the internet and a need to compete. However, should retail bookmakers embrace the digital age then it may be more about complimenting than competition – a situation that’s bound to benefit many more betting professionals.