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Profiting is profiting. Isn’t it?

There’s an interesting discussion on Sean Boyce’s blog about the rights and wrongs of the Findlay case.

I have posted before about my view on whether owners should be allowed to lay their horses. What I struggle to understand, though, is why, persistently, a distinction is made between backing and laying, even by people who really know their onions.

Don’t get me wrong: of course I know the old argument that it’s easier to make sure your horse loses than it is that your horse wins. I’m not an idiot.

But surely, the argument that says that “owners should not be able to profit from their horse losing” should mean exactly that. And pretending that this is achieved by banning an owner from laying his own horse is clearly only telling half the story.

Whether you ban owners (or trainers) from betting on a race in which they are involved or not is a matter for debate. Some people are advancing the opinion on Boycie’s blog that racing ought to do that to put it in line with other sports, and in line with the recommendation of the Parry panel, and it’s a fair enough view.

At the other extreme, you could allow them to hedge their bets, in effect, and offset some of their costs, but never allow them to make more money out of the horse not winning than they would if it won. Obviously, that would be a rule which may be hard to do the maths for and therefore over-complicated to enforce, however logical it might be. But it’s an option at the other end of the spectrum.

But whether you ban them completely from betting on a race in which they have a runner, or just make it an offence to profit from a loss to a greater extent than they would from a win, what you surely cannot do is prevent them from laying their own horse but allow them to profit from it losing in some other way, like backing the field against it. Indeed, a trainer could even back the horse of one owner while sending out a horse of another in the same race, without being deemed to be laying the second. Surely that’s nuts.

Backing and laying are two sides of the same coin, and if you can secure an outcome identical to laying a horse by backing others, the multiple bets you placed should be just as illegal as the single. It might be more complicated, but if it’s going to make you money, what do you care about complications? You’d be quite prepared to jump through a few hoops – particularly if it crazily puts you on the right side of the rules!

A very similar point came up, as it happened, regarding integrity in sport as a whole, on the Parry Panel mentioned above (and therefore wrongly cited in the comments on Boycie’s blog as the exemplar).

The representatives of sport were all focused on people not cheating to make money from betting. But they didn’t seem in the least concerned as I argued until I was blue in the face about the importance of preventing rigged results which profited corruptors in some other way. Of many examples that I gave, I pointed out that the biggest single prize in sport comes on the last day of the Premiership season, when retaining your team’s place in the top flight, or winning a Champions’ League slot, is worth around £40million to your club. It’s very much in the interests of a mid-table side with nothing to gain to play out a draw, were someone so minded to do. Fanciful, you might think; but it happened in a much less lucrative era, in 1915. If you can’t be bothered to click through to read the whole post, the key line is: “Although the players’ main motives for the match-fixing appear to be financial, and not to save United from relegation, the two points United won from that game were enough to earn them 18th place and safety, one point ahead of 19th-placed Chelsea, who were nominally relegated.”

You only need to have watched the news in the last two days, and heard about Wendy Chapman purposely cutting the lip of Harlequins winger Tom WIlliams so that his blood capsule might not be discovered, to see what a joke it is that profit by other means has been completely ignored. The reporters and phone-ins have gone on and on about how great the pressure was on the doctor, in part because there was so much money at stake. Sadly, the response on the panel seemed to be, hey – it’s OK: that was just cheating, or at worst cheating for money, not cheating for money made by betting. It’s totally different. Honest.

So, why is it that we put in place rules which deal with half a problem? Can anyone help me understand it?

Posted in Betting industry, Regulation.

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2 Responses

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  1. bigdipper says

    I am interested that you have rowed back on your earlier defence of Harry Findlay’s betting, which, like Antony Bromley’s before it, appeared to have the effect of creating a better price for his larger-sized punt.

    There is the Betfair term which says:

    In particular you undertake not to … bet on, or manipulate any individual Market in a manner which we believe has the purpose or effect of adversely affecting the integrity of the Exchange or any Market.

    I think this is pretty boilerplate; and in my view would be served by having a rule that owners were only permitted to make one-way bets (at whatever price) on their own horses. That is, if they thought the price was wrong, they could top up; but for the sake of the smaller punter with less information they were prohibited from queering or creating a false market with the aim of getting on in volume at a better price.

    Would you agree with this? Do you think that exchanges have an obligation to protect the recreational player (as far as they can) against market manipulation?

  2. MD says

    I don’t think I have ‘rowed back’ on my earlier view: my view is exactly the same as it was. The rule that says that an owner cannot lay his own horse is a misconceived rule.

    If racing followed other sports, then the rule would be that no-one with an interest in the race could bet on the race, but I can see why this would never wash. The options, it seems to me, should therefore be either that you can back your own horse as an owner, but not bet on any other horse in the race or lay your own; or that you can bet however you want on the race so long as you do not put yourself in a position of making more money if your horse loses than you would be if it won (i.e. you can’t claim an ’emotional hedge’). The worst rule of all, in my opinion, is to say ‘you can’t lay your own horse’, if the object of that rule is to stop someone from profiting on that horse not winning – because it clearly doesn’t do the job of prevention in that regard, and merely pretends to.

    I think this is another issue altogether than market manipulation, which has no place anywhere (hence the Betfair rule). I disagree that that means that owners should only be allowed to bet one way. An owner can have a view that his horse has a 50/50 chance of winning, which means he is a backer of that horse at one price and a layer at another. I don’t think that having a firm view of a horse’s chances, and expressing it, means you are manipulating the market.

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