The biggest change facing race goers at Chester yesterday was the absence of any Tote windows at which to place their bets. In their place were new signs encouraging punters to a new fixed odds service called chesterBET.
There were mixed views about the benefits of this service, with punter reaction ranging from anger, to confusion and indifference. The anger came from punters who were caught out by the lower returns from the new service, typically around 10% below the official SP. One, who had backed Ile De Re in the Chester Cup, saw an SP of 10/1 on one of the television screens and expected a return accordingly. “I should have got £55 for my fiver, but I collected £50.” He had not realised that the chesterBET dividend included his stake. “It’s only pennies, but it’s all about winning and I’m sure it’s going to put off a lot of people like me.”
There was frustration for some who wanted to put on place bets. A Chester shareholder said, “I always go for place bets on the Tote so it was a shock when I went up to the counter and had to double the amount I put on to have an each way bet.”
And the indifference came from most punters who knew two the things they wanted to know: they had been able to put a bet on and whether they had won or not.
The change of service came about when the management team at Chester cold not agree a new contract for Tote operations with Betfred, who now own the Tote. Chief executive at the track Richard Thomas was happy with the first day’s operations, when, despite steady rain for much of the afternoon, turnover was up compares with Tote takings on the first day of the meeting last year.
He said, “That was always our ambition on the first day because it would show we were on the right lines. The system performed as we expected and things generally worked very well. We opened the betting windows earlier than normal and they were fully staffed. In fact, we probably overstaffed the outlets (not something you could ever accuse the Tote of doing), but that was so everyone could be served without there being long queues, which makes a big difference to our customers.”
Thomas clearly wanted to emphasise the service perspective, and his additional statement is one that anyone visiting Chester, and also nearby Bangor on Dee, which has a similar operation, should note. Explaining how he saw the service differing from the ring he said, “If regular punters want value they can go to the ring bookmakers. If they want good, quick service, they should come to us.”