UK gambling operator William Hill has sold off its trackside race betting operations, the latest dent in the crown of the alleged sport of kings.
On Sunday, the Guardian newspaper reported that Hills was planning to sell its 82 racecourse betting pitches. On Monday, that sale was confirmed, with the buyer identified as Racecourse Pitches Ltd, which does business under the Sid Hooper betting brand.
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the Racing Post estimated the sale price was around £2m, while the Guardian put the price closer to £2.5m. Regardless, Racecourse Pitches managing director John Hooper told the Post that his company had been “looking for expansion opportunities for some time” and the Hills opportunity was simply too good to pass up.
William Hill trading director Terry Pattinson told the Post that the company would retain its betting shops at 41 racecourses, but the company didn’t like the results of an internal review to determine “whether our rails operation continues to make commercial sense.” Going forward, Pattinson said Hills would focus on providing racing punters with “a full retail experience on the racecourse.”
The Guardian questioned whether Hills’ decision to exit the on-course market would threaten the credibility and thus the future of the starting prices (SP) system, which relies on data supplied by on-course betting rings. Hills represented the last remaining major bookmaking brand to maintain a trackside presence, following the exits of Betfred and Ladbrokes a couple years ago.
While Hills will maintain its racecourse presence via its betting shops, other major bookmakers have taken an even harsher stance on the value of remaining overly engaged with UK racing. One year ago, Betfred announced it would close all but two of its on-course shops, in part based on UK racing stakeholders’ decision to launch a Tote betting alternative once Betfred’s Tote monopoly expired this summer. The launch of that Britbet alternative was postponed following Betfred’s sale of a 25% stake in the Tote to a consortium of racing stakeholders this spring.