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Why today was a bad day for bookies at Cheltenham, but they don't really care

It’s not just about getting their hands on your money for one or two races, you see.

Updated at 16.55

IRISH GAMBLERS ARE expected to spend over €100 million across the Cheltenham Festival alone as bookmakers scramble to entice more gamblers onto their books.

And while betting agents were sweating on Irish trainer Willie Mullins walking away with all the prizes in the top-tier races, bookmakers will still be the long-term winners.

Mullins fielded the favourites in four of today’s fixtures with bookies like Paddy Power offering free bets for everyone who backs another horse that loses to his entries should they win in some races.

Rival Betfair has put the potential losses to bookmakers at £50 million (€70 million) if all his horses got up, according to the Financial Times.

In the end, three out of four of Mullins’ favourites, all of which which were ridden by champion Irish jockey Ruby Walsh, came home first after red-hot favourite Annie Power fell at the last jump in the Mares’ Hurdle.

Ladbrokes estimated that stumble alone spared bookies losses of £50 million (€70 million).

But Goodbody gaming analyst Gavin Kelleher told TheJournal.ie that Cheltenham wasn’t the do-or-die event for bookmakers that it was only a decade ago as the agencies now had their fingers in many pies outside horseracing.

“Cheltenham is still really important, but it’s not the make or break it was in the past,” he said.

It is a customer-acquisition event – it is a means of acquiring new customers or reactivating older customers. It is a shop window for bookmakers to showcase their products to customers.”

Horse Racing - 2015 Cheltenham Festival - Champion Day - Cheltenham Racecourse Punters at this year's festival Source: David Davies/PA Wire

Big spending on Cheltenham

All the major betting agencies are offering “free bets” or sign-up bonuses as a carrot for new punters to sign up, on top of the various special offers on the day.

Paddy Power has estimated a “whopping” €125 million would be wagered with Irish bookmakers over the full racing festival and its spokesman said it was one of the few events that attracted “the casual punter along with the purists”.

Kelleher said while Cheltenham’s opening day could be good for punters and bad for bookmakers if all Mullins’ favourites won, the companies would still be the winners in the long term.

There will still be positive recycling – people tend to recycle winnings over the long term,” he said.
Paddy Power recently announced a record turnover of €7 billion and record pre-tax profits of €166.6 million for 2014, when its annual results revealed customers were on the losing ends of over 90% of all bets.

First published 1.30pm

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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