Grand National May Be Moved For Betting Shop Reopening
The UK government have now announced that betting shops in England can reopen from 12th April 2021. The big issue with this is the Grand National is due to take place just two days before, on the 10th April.
If you read much around gambling news you would think that nobody cared about betting shops anymore as big brands like William Hill have been closing them down at a rate of knots over the past few years. The future of betting shops is definitely on the decline but there is one big exception for the retail industry and that is the grand national. It is the one day when people who would never usually go near a bookies will pop in to place their customary annual bet on the winner of the worlds greatest steeplechase.
No wonder then that now the 12th April date has been announced as the date non-essential shops can open from Grand National organisers are considering moving the event back by at least a week to capitalise on punters being able to bet in store.
The former MD of Aintree racecourse, Joe Baker, hinted that he would be inclined to change the dates if he were still in the role.
Why Do Betting Shops Matter For The National?
When you look into the statistics around people who bet infrequently you find that those that place just one bet each year will predominantly do so on the Grand National. It is a cultural phenomenon and an unrivaled spectacle that transcends the usual opinions around around gambling, in fact most people wouldn’t even regard themselves as gambling by placing a one-off wager for low stakes on the big race.
Unlike with mainstream betting many people will not be willing to open an online gambling account to bet solely on the National. Part of this is not wanting to go through the hassle of doing so, others do not want to hand over card and personal details to bookies and others who only want to bet low stakes may not want to have to deposit £5 or £10 into an account. There are also of course a lot of people that don’t have a smartphone or a computer through which they can bet online. The process of betting remotely also removes part of the aspect that people love, the act of going into a bookmaker shop to place a wager.
Therefore, the availability of betting shops will have a massive impact on the industry given it is the single most bet on event in the world. The National was cancelled in 2020 as all horse racing was shut down as part of the initial lockdown, it was the first time it had been cancelled outside of war time. The 2021 National therefore takes on added importance, especially for the retail betting industry reeling from a difficult year where shops have been closed for the majority of the time.
It is not just about the short term either. We know in the modern world that people can quickly lose interest in things and there is a worry that if people do not bet on the National for two consecutive years it could mean people falling out of the habit and it may start to decline from its current ‘special status’ in peoples hearts and minds.
Will People Want To Bet In Shops This Year?
Even if the National is moved to a time when betting shops can open will people actually want to go into them? Last year we covered what betting shops are now like with social distancing and restrictions and while things are largely the same there is definitely a different atmosphere inside of shops.
Without doubt people will be reluctant to go into betting shops now where they would not have been the last time the National was run in 2019. If the race is moved it will only be by a week or two and therefore people will still be getting used to going into shops again and there are still risks involved, especially while everyone is not yet vaccinated.
Therefore, even shops are available for people to use this year it is an almost certainty that takings will be way down on 2019 levels, although not as bad as if shops are closed altogether.
Grand National On 17th April?
One issue with moving the Grand National back by one week is it will be run on the same day as the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. This is not just an issue with usurping the Scottish race there is the added complication that many runners in the English version also run in the Scottish version.
Moving the National back any further will start to impede on the flat racing season, with the 1000 and 2000 Guineas set to run on the first weekend in May. A later running also means warmer weather and this can be difficult for horses that are expected to run nearly four miles over 30 massive fences and could pose a risk to the health of the animals.
Is It Just About Money?
There is no doubt that if the National is moved it will mainly be to drive more revenue from shops. After all there is no hope that spectators can attend unless the race was moved much further back into the summer, which it won’t be as it will be too hot for the steeplechase.
The race is unlikely to be moved to the Autumn either as this would be the start of the jump racing season when horses are not in the right condition to run a race like this. In fact, the reason the National comes at the end of the jump racing season is so that the runners and riders are in peak condition.
It is not only about bookmaker profits though as a proportion of all the money bet on racing goes back into the sport in the form of a horse racing levy. Given the industry has lost a lot of money from this levy over the last year they will be keen to have a boost from the Grand National takings, which will be reduced if shops cannot open for it.
Money is not the only consideration, though. There is also a sense that putting the National back by a week or two means that the general public will be able to go out and bet on it and that in itself may help in bringing back a sense of normality to life given the race has been a permanent annual fixture since 1839.