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Vicky Nolan

Will Tomorrow Be a Grand Day?

6 April 2001

Arguably the world's largest horseracing event, the Grand National running in Aintree tomorrow is expected to bring in two-thirds of all betting turnover in the U.K. this year. Add to that amount the betting on this summer's Derby and together these two events will represent at least 75 percent of all betting turnover in the U.K., according to Steve Donoughue with The Gambling Consultancy.

Added Ladbrokes eGaming Public Relations Executive Paul LeSage, "On a normal betting day around 6 percent of the adult population place a bet. This figure rises to around 33 percent on Grand National Day."

The popularity of the event also represents increased turnover. News reports suggest that turnover will top £100 million for the first time ever, compared to last year when the Grand National brought in about £85 million.

Why the surge in turnover for this year's event? A number of reasons are helping the Grand National grow, experts say.

"Due to the high number of race meetings postponed this year, interest in the race will be great and in terms of betting, it is likely to be the biggest Grand National ever," confirmed LeSage. His company expects a ten-fold increase in turnover from a normal Saturday.

David Harding from William Hill says tomorrow's event is also likely to benefit from punters taking a chance on several other sporting events occurring this weekend. (The other events include England v. France in the Six Nations Championships, Arsenal v. Tottenham in the all-London FA Cup semifinal, and the world featherweight battle between boxers Prince Naseem Hamed and Marco Antonio Barrera.)

William Hill is expecting business to triple tomorrow, whereas a typical Grand National day brings in double the turnover of their busiest Saturday of the year. "Saturdays themselves are double average daily volumes in the week," Harding added.

In addition, bookmakers like the event because it brings out droves of punters who never bet on anything else during the year. (The race has been nicknamed the "housewives" race for this very reason.) Donoughue explained that British betting shops typically have about 1 million punters, while this one-day event causes that number jump to 12 million.

British Betting Offices Association Chairman Warwick Bartlett described the scene: "The betting shops are crammed with people with long queues, but all goes quiet when the race is off as everyone goes home to watch it. Then all the winners return and the queues start over again. At the end of the day the staff are pleased it is all over, they go home, have a shower and go to bed exhausted. Another National is over!"

Last year was the first time British bookies really began taking bets for the Grand National over the Internet, and in many ways, it was dismal going. Between grandiose predictions for turnover (some expected upwards of £20 million to be wagered via the Internet on the event, when in reality it was closer to £330,000, according to the Racing Post.) and a blitz of problems for Internet bookies that couldn't handle the load, most operators have taken precautions.

This year, successfully handling this event will be an important step for Internet betting sites in proving their reliability to a somewhat skeptical public.

"Saturday is Britain's biggest betting day of the year bar none," Coral's Simon Clare told This is London. "If the Internet can cope with that, it can cope with anything."

Several companies shared their plans for coping. William Hill, for example, will "maximize the capacity from existing infrastructure and utilize any spare capacity from test and disaster recovery facilities," Harding said.

He added, "We also try to minimize the impact of spikes in volume on our long standing customers."

Ladbrokes, meanwhile, has planned ahead by increasing bandwidth and has also expanded its number of Web and applications servers.

Two of Britain's biggest person-to-person betting sites, Betfair and are also prepared for betting-mad customers to come calling. Representatives from both companies say they're well prepared to handle the increased load.

"The Betfair system has been built top cope with large capacity," explained JoJo Primrose, the company's marketing chief. "We typically run on 25 percent capacity so (we) can cope with a 300 percent increase without detrimental effects."

Primrose is pretty prosaic about the Grand National and how Betfair will fare. She explained, "We are not expecting the huge increases that many traditional bookies will be because the nature of Betfair is that it appeals to the more sophisticated punter. Thus we are not expecting a flood of 'Grand National' punters who come in for a single event.", meanwhile, is courting new customers through a Grand National sweepstake, which has attracted more than 50,000 new users to date. Three partner sites distributed the sweepstake:, and

This led to an interesting development. Business Development Director Tim Levene said, "In a fantastic example of viral marketing, users passed on the sweepstake to their friends and colleagues via e-mail, so each bet came with a recommendation from a friend or colleague. is more accessible to a mass market non-betting market, and a more compelling experience for many new users."

In just a few hours it will be apparent whether all of the hype and the expectations will prove to be truth or fiction. At the very least, there will be a few weary bookmakers in the U.K. when the race is finally over.

Will Tomorrow Be a Grand Day? is republished from
Vicky Nolan
Vicky Nolan