Beating the Odds with Agile IT

Written by Sacha Kavanagh, Co-founder and Senior Analyst, Scrutinise Research & Analysis Published 2016-06-14 13:48:00

Britain is a nation of gamblers. That doesn’t mean that the entire country is down at the bookies every day, but we do have a long tradition of betting and, coupled with relative wealth and a liberal licensing regime, a propensity to gamble. From the National Lottery to bingo to sports betting, we all like a flutter now and then.

Horseracing is a quintessentially British tradition – despite the renaming of Glorious Goodwood to the Qatar Goodwood Festival last year to reflect sponsorship from that country. It is a long-standing institution, with the most famous events dating back hundreds of years. It is also the most popular betting activity in the UK, with an estimated £10 billion – yes billion – bet on British horseracing each year[1].

As with all other forms of gambling and gaming, online betting is becoming increasingly popular in horseracing, and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) estimates that less than half of betting activity is now through the retail channel, that is at high street bookmakers. While some activity is of course made in person at the events, a large and rapidly growing portion is online.

Delving into some numbers surrounding two of the most iconic events in the British horseracing calendar, the recently run Grand National and the forthcoming Royal Ascot meeting which will kick off the summer season in style, gives an indication of just what’s at stake.

The Grand National is the world’s most famous steeplechase and brings in the most betting activity in terms of number of bets: nearly half the UK adult population has a punt, with some £300 million bet on this year’s race. Rule The World (“Unlikely to rule Aintree on Grand National day when you consider he hasn’t won any of his 13 races over fences”, according to the pre-race commentary on the Grand National website) romped home at odds of 50:1. More than 10 million people in the UK tuned in to watch the live event on TV; the global audience was estimated at 600 million.

The five-day Royal Ascot meeting in June is Britain’s most valuable race meeting with £6.6 million in prize money up for grabs. Some 300,000 racegoers attend each year and the races are watched in over 200 countries around the world. This year, NBC’s Sports Network will provide live streaming for smartphones, computers, tablets and connected TVs for the duration of the event.

According to the BHA, there are nearly 1,500 horseracing days in the UK in 2016, including 30 major events. Although the calendar is fixed, bookmakers must be prepared for bursts of betting activity, particularly around the most popular meetings, and the same is true for all forms of sports betting, from regular fixtures such as Wimbledon, the US Open or the Tour de France, to less frequent championships. 2016 will be a particularly busy year, with Euro 2016 already underway in France and the Olympics coming to Rio in August. Such events bring additional challenges in the form of in-play betting as gamblers use their computers and, increasingly, an array of sophisticated mobile devices and connected TVs, to watch and bet as games and races unfold.

At the same time, gambling operators must also contend with purely online gambling activities. The most popular is poker, but there’s been a recent surge in e-sports betting and many developers are now building features into video games to facilitate competitions.

All this adds up to traffic that fluctuates significantly as betting activity spikes during various sporting events and online players sign in as and when they choose. Bookmakers can predict when traffic might peak and plan for those events, but they must also be able to automatically respond to any unforeseen surges in demand – all without loss of service or service quality.

Gambling operators therefore need a flexible and agile IT environment that can automatically scale up and down as demand dictates, and cope with bursty traffic levels. But with competition fierce and margins under pressure, many can’t afford to run a costly in-house IT estate that that is able meet maximum traffic demands, especially as that maximum will not always be needed and will continue to grow.

The sensible choice for gambling operators of any size is a hybrid IT environment that will enable them to deliver exceptional products coupled with unrivalled customer experience, without paying through the nose for it. They may choose to keep some applications in house, especially where they have legacy IT systems. But increasingly, and as their infrastructure reaches end of life, they will turn to third-party providers which have the ability to provide flexible capacity on flexible terms so they only pay for what they use, when they use it.

Bookmakers simply cannot afford to gamble on their IT infrastructure: they need reliability, scalability and flexibility or they risk losing bets and customers. And, of course, they also need it cost-effectively if profit margins are to go the distance.

[1] British Horseracing Authority (BHA)