In a little over 2 months on March 11th this year, race day will return to the Stratford Racecourse, provided the floods have abated. As a sport, a large part of the entertainment factor comes down to the atmosphere and spirit of the occasion, and the opening day is brimful, with extra crowds anticipating four days at the Cheltenham Festival starting the following day. Compared to many other sports, betting is also indelibly wed to racing, with numerous fans seeing betting as a must-do activity to make the most out of the event.
This is exemplified with televised events such as Royal Ascot, the Grand National, and Cheltenham Festival. In 2021, for instance, the Grand National set the record for UK online sports betting, drawing in bets from more than 13 million people – that amounts to around a third of the adult UK population! And aligned to this, ITV Racing will cover more days’ racing in 2023 than ever before.
With online gambling more accessible than ever, horse racing has maintained its allure for both live and online fans alike. Wanting to find out why, we caught up with Alex Hussain, online gambling journalist focused on sports betting. Below is our chat with him about all things horses, online gambling, and why the 2024 season will be the most exciting yet.
Hi Alex, could you start off by telling us what you do for a living?
Hello there! I’m an online gambling journalist with a particular love for all things sports. I cover a wide range of topics, but my main area is sports betting. I spend my time giving readers comprehensive news coverage on all the most bettable sports.
Speaking of bettable sports, we wanted to know what makes horse racing so popular online.
I think the main reason it’s so popular today is because the online gambling community is not all too different from the wider community. That is to say, when the online gambling industry got big 25 years ago, it wasn’t a whole load of new people finding gambling for the first time.
It was traditional gamblers transitioning to a more streamlined, convenient, digital platform to gamble. That transition integrated all the popular gambling pastimes – the ones that had been popular for a hundred years or more beforehand – and that included horse racing. In the highly developed UK market, racing remains the second most televised sport behind football, and this is a key driver to its availability and continued spectator appeal.
With a wide range of sporting events to bet on, it was thought that horse racing might fall down the rankings of online popularity. But it never really did. Of course, people like to bet on football and basketball and so on, but there’s still a special place for horse racing in the heart of the online community.
I think that’s potentially due to the popularity of ‘fixed odds’. Unlike pari-mutuel gambling – where wagers are deposited into a single pot – odds can fluctuate based on the wagers, with winnings being paid from the total payout. This means that gamblers can bet much in the same way that they do with club sports. It wraps everything up in a neat bow!
Interesting. Are there any other reasons for the popularity of horse racing in the iGaming community?
I think the inclusion of alternative payment methods helps. In 2024, users can place wagers through a variety of means, including cryptocurrency. With the added security and convenience of multiple payment methods, horse racing betting has been opened up to a wider audience. With the growth of that audience in mind, the online gambling world has also drawn in new horse racing fans, especially among the younger Gen Z generation.
For instance, there are a load of horse racing-themed slots, and even simulated horse races that gamblers can wager on. This is important, because these ‘races’ are available at any time, on any day. Real horse racing, however, is constrained to a seasonal window. Because virtual races occur daily, there’s more chance to draw in new fans and new interest in the real thing. By appealing to gamers, racing can attract fans into real racing too.
That’s crazy. So virtual games and simulations are actually aiding the real sport?
Oh yes, definitely. Just think, in 2021, the overall wagering handle increased to $12.2 billion. This was a big increase over 2020, even though there were 30% fewer races in the huge US market. The only thing you can put that down to is the online-verse. New fans are arriving everyday, and horse racing is only getting more popular as a result. I think we can only expect it to get bigger in the future, too. It’s a very exciting time to be a horse racing fan and an online gambling fan, especially with all the options at your fingertips.
Alex, thank you for your insights.