Gaming Strategy
Featured Stories
Legal News Financial News Casino Opening and Remodeling News Gaming Industry Executives Author Home Author Archives Search Articles Subscribe
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Kevin Smith

Virtual Racing Competition Heating Up

3 August 2004

As more and more punters get hooked on the craze of virtual horseracing officials with Vis iTV and Inspired Broadcast Networks (IBN) are jockeying for position to become the industry leader.

The Scottish-based Vis iTV plans to announce a major agreement later this week that will see its I-Race online system distributed globally through a "major online bookmaker."

The news comes just a month after the company singed a similar deal with in which the American-based Advanced Deposit Wagering supplier in California agreed to offer I-Race to its customers.

The two deals give Vis a leg up against IBN as its focus continues to be land-based betting shops in Europe.

Officials with Vis said they expect I-Race to pull in "several million pounds" in net revenues during the first year of the new contracts.

Plans are for a new sophisticated set of races to be ready for I-Race users by Christmas and a full roll out of the system launched in the early part of 2005. The online version will launch in the UK and include a specially built terminal to distribute the system in High Street betting shops.

Chief executive Simon Grieve said Vis also hopes to line up agreements with other operators, both online and land-based, that would increase the market share of I-Race. Grieve said the deals, both current and future ones, are signs that the four years spent developing I-Race were worth it, even though throughout the research and development phase some questioned the long-term viability of virtual racing.

Officials with IBN meanwhile are busy expanding their virtual racing offerings, Portman Park and Steeple Downs, which run on screens in more than 8,000 UK betting shops.

IBN may already have its foot in the door in terms of market share in the virtual racing world, but Grieve is confident that Vis will be able to give the established company a run for its money.

"It's not a worry for us," he said. "IBN opened up an attractive sector for the product. I think we have a superior product, both visually and in its gambling appeal to betting shop punters."

More than £6 million has been invested in the creation of I-Race, which has the ability to be played on the Internet, interactive television or mobile phones, according to Grieve.

I-Race also is complete with a free-play version, which allows the users to own, train and develop a stable of runners – each of which has electronic DNA which gives it an edge in long or short races, types of ground, etc. Decisions by the user – what to feed it, how long to take the horse out for practice runs, veterinary supplements given to the horse – ultimately affect the way the horse places in subsequent races.

The pay-for-play version of I-Race also allows punters to own their own horse, or they can bet on others running in races. The game also has graphics and realistic looking races, complete with track, crowd, thundering horses and voice commentary.

I-Race is backed by a joint venture between Telewest and games developer Vis Entertainment.

When Vis iTV was first set up in 2000, the original plan was to create a television channel with virtual games content that would showcase I-Race. A fire, which damaged property surrounding the Vis headquarters, put those plans on hold in 2002. Computers which were housing the development and research for the system suffered severe smoke damage.

After the fire Grieve was hired on to plan a new future for I-Race, and it was decided that it was less costly and risky to partner with established betting brands for distribution instead of trying to do it all themselves.

The gambling version of the game made its debut in December on Sky Digital channel iSportsTV. Owner Digital Interactive Television Group (DITG) recently announced a deal to launch a William Hill-branded games channel that is expected to replace iSportsTV.

Having William Hill as the branded channel will only increase the revenue and handle generated from I-Race, Grieve said.

"The launch on iSportsTV has been very successful," he said. "It's achieved a level of business we're satisfied with. But it's a pretty niche channel. The target for the channel is betting shop customers that want to continue in the evenings. With William Hill, it will go to a medium-sized niche channel. Being fronted by such a well-known brand can only drive more customers to our game. The more people bet, the more revenue we earn."

Grieve isn't resting with the current agreements in place. He said the company is now scouting out the Asian region in hopes of finding a potential partner to distribute I-Race throughout the Pacific Rim.

The company is also in the developmental phase to create a greyhound version of I-Race that could be ready for market in three to four months. A soccer and auto-racing version are also being discussed and could be ready for use in 18 months, he said.

And just like betting exchanges changed the way sports betting was conducted online more than three years ago, Grieve is hopeful that virtual horseracing, and I-Race, will be able to change the way punters look at betting on races online.

Virtual Racing Competition Heating Up is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith