Changing times, changing markets

The popularity of digital technologies has changed the betting world in ways that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Whereas traditional on-course and high street bookmakers were prepared to take the occasional special – the winner of the next general election, snow at Christmas – their stock in trade was very definitely sporting runners and riders.

That simple sporting proposition has been radically extended. We are now routinely offered prices on anything from the value of the yen to the winner of the Great British Bake Off. As an illustration of how far this move away from the race-track and the football pitch has taken us the bet365 website, for example, now offers a minute by minute market on a range of financial indexes.

You can back the yen to rise against the dollar, you can take a price on the moves of the FTSE, or you can put it all on Wall Street. This is, in effect, combines the essence of gambling with the fundamental mechanism of capitalism. Market moves now represent the terrain on which a secondary market is formed. For number crunching gamblers this must be a dream come true.

But the digital revolution is not just about the numbers. Bet365 and their competitors have not been slow to see the advantages of a consolidated offering. Within the scope of a single website, and using just the one account, it is now possible to flip between sports and casino gaming – to click between measures of judgement to games of chance and tests of skill.

It’s not quite the same thing as something for everyone – but it certainly comes pretty close.

There are estimated to now be over 170 million online gamblers globally. There are millions more who play gambling themed games with virtual currencies rather than actual cash. There has been a universal swell in the popularity and the social acceptability of enjoying a bet. In sum, the world has become a more gambler-friendly place.

There has also been a growing convergence of media and gaming providers. Whereas once upon a time these were entirely separate entities, it is increasingly common to see broadcasters offering betting opportunities (e.g. Sky Bet), just as it is to find betting sites carrying their own broadcast streams – e.g. the bet365 site carries commentaries of every Premier League game, as well as live video streams of other overseas matches.

Meanwhile, the bet in play offerings of those sites have revolutionised what it means to bet on a live contest. It is not simply a one bite of the cherry exercise – punters are continually challenged to back their reading of a game. No wonder bet in play is such a massive hit.

Interactive markets, multi-player casino games and the breadth and speed of markets have all seen the bookmaking world changed out of all recognition in the past 20 years. And that begs an inevitable question: what is next?

The speed of innovation in the industry shows little sign of letting up. If anything, as competition increases so does the pressure to come up with the next ‘big idea’. But predicting what that idea will be is far from easy. Techies, bookies, MPs, grinders and punters – all are going to have some sort of a say.

It’s perhaps fitting that this is one game where predicting too far ahead really is a mug’s game.

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