William Hill is the first of the big four bookmakers to sign with The Racing Partnership (TRP). There is history here, going back to the days of the breakaway Turf TV, when bookmakers were reluctant to sign up to a dual service between SIS and Turf TV because they did not want to pay twice for a service they had previously been paying for only once.

Turf TV, finding life rather difficult, gave a sweetheart deal to Coral and this caused Ladbrokes to sign and later William Hill at a not so generous price. Not wanting to be found in that situation again, Hills has now bitten the bullet and signed first.

So what will William Hill get from the deal with TRP? The package covers the Arena racecourses with all-weather race tracks, South African racing, and seven independent tracks (Fakenham, Ffos Las, Hexham, Newton Abbot, Plumpton, Ripon and Towcester).

Others who have signed up with TRP are Mark Jarvis, Boyles, Sean Graham, Mulholland, Fox’s, Bambury Bookmakers, Track Sports, Bar One, Jennings, Stan James, Backhouse, Chisholm’s and Corbett’s.

The other horse racing service is Turf TV, the brand name for Amalgamated Racing, Racecourse Media Services and Timeweave plc and covers the most high-profile 34 racecourses in the UK, which includes Ascot, Newbury, York, Sandown Park, Cheltenham and Epsom (RMG).

The third service offered by SIS covers greyhound racing, and from the 1 April 2018 SIS will take over the horse racing rights from RMG. Turf TV is being phased out and has already stopped showing virtual racing. The phasing out of Turf TV and the take up by SIS is not without problems.There could be a gap in the service from 1 January 2018 to 31 March 2018. One would hope that some negotiation could take place whereby SIS could take up the service earlier.

William Hill and the other major bookmakers have their own studios and can blend all three services to create one channel. The proliferation of services and a willingness on the part of racecourses to demand a higher price for a declining product has caused prices to rise for the betting shop.

This substantial rise in betting shop costs demonstrates the need for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in the sustainability of betting shops. The racing product is declining, especially with the younger audience. The betting shop’s survival now has become more dependent on the machines than ever before. Lose the machines and you lose the income to racing from media rights and the horse race levy.

SIS was one of the very first companies to send a TV signal via satellite in the UK, a credit to its founding members of Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill and Mecca bookmakers. It was run from inception like all monopoly businesses. Overpriced, profitable, but providing a reliable service that lacked innovation. It is a company that would have benefitted from competition but there was none. SIS will now be the conduit for RMG racecourses and will no doubt take a percentage turn for providing the service. But this will be a lot less than having owned the television rights itself.

The shareholders took good dividends, much to the anguish of the subscribers to the service. With hindsight, the big mistake of its founding shareholders was that the company was not listed on the stock exchange at its peak. Had it done so, the shareholders would have a windfall capital gain of about £500 million but, more importantly, the company would have been subjected to the rigours of the financial markets and that could have invoked a more dynamic discipline.

by Warwick Bartlett