Bookmakers fear cashless trial “disaster” at Goodwood

Bookmakers fear card payments take too long to be practical at the race course.
Bookmakers fear card payments take too long to be practical at the race course.

On-course bookmakers are urging the UK government to ease a ban on cash betting as Goodwood Festival gets underway.

UK.- As Goodwood Festival kicks off today (Tuesday), on-course bookmakers have called on the government to ease restrictions on cash betting when 5,000 punters are allowed to attend the race track on Saturday.

Restrictions drawn up for a “cashless trial” mean that only four on-course bookmakers will be allowed to operate at Goodwood, in Sussex, when crowds return at the weekend, and they will only be allowed to accept bets via card payment.

The Guardian has reported that on-course bookmakers are appealing to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to allow cash betting, fearing that the card processing times make the cashless trial “a disaster waiting to happen”.

Robin Grossmith of the Federation Of Racecourse Bookmakers told the newspaper: “The last thing we want are problems with the trial. The DCMS probably doesn’t appreciate the difficulties we may have. This is something we are going to be talking to them about on Monday, as a matter of urgency.

“The problem is that Parliament is in recess. Who we can get hold of to make a decision, I really don’t know until we try. Our political advisors will do it for us and we’ll see where we get but the clock’s ticking down pretty quickly.

“We think if cash can be taken, it will be a success. We’re just concerned that there could be all sorts of technical problems that are beyond our control.

“Every betting shop in the high street takes cash, every supermarket takes cash, I don’t know of a business that doesn’t. We’re working out in the open air that the SAGE experts say is the safest place to be, yet cash is to be banned and we don’t understand the rationale.”

One of the main concerns is the length of time it takes to process card payments. Racing bookmaker Simon James said it takes eight times longer to process a card payment compared to cash.

He said: “I’ve timed it and it’s about 30 seconds per bet coming in. If you were to work flat out for half an hour, the gap between races, you could take 60 bets. That isn’t allowing for any payouts.

“If the first favourite wins and you have a queue of 30 people trying to get paid, you could spend the whole of the next race’s betting time paying people out. This cannot be allowed to happen. It is a disaster waiting to happen.”

James also noted that using card payments means each transaction will tie up portions of bookmakers’ funds for several days. 

He said: “When I work with cash, my float would only go down by the amount I’ve lost on a race. Taking card payments only, my float’s going to go down by my turnover.

“The amount of money we would have to have in preparation for any race-meeting is going to be beyond the realms of most bookmakers to manage. Only an elite few would be able to do it, especially for four or five days on the trot.”

British horse racing resumed at the start of June and this year’s Royal Ascot saw record betting interest but Goodwood will see the first meeting at which punters can return to watch.

The four bookmakers allowed at Goodwood on Saturday are expected to be placed in quieter locations from where bookmakers would normally operate in order to reduce the potential for queues that could go against social distancing measures. 

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