Cheltenham Festival was ‘painful’ for bookies

Paddy Power Betfair is seeking to get even with punters at next week’s Cheltenham Festival after the UK betting industry incurred record losses at last year’s edition of the storied horse-racing event.

Chief executive Breon Corcoran said: “Hopefully from a results perspective it’s very different. We lost £20m in Cheltenham last year, and we’re hoping for nothing as painful as that this year.”

Cheltenham week is the biggest of the year for bookmakers, and competition for business is tougher than ever. The industry as a whole lost over £60m a year ago, as a large number of Cheltenham races were won by the favourite, and next week’s outcomes will be crucial in determining betting companies’ first-quarter results.

To gain new customers, the Paddy Power brand will offer customers refunds in the form of free bets if their selection finishes second in most of next week’s races. However, Mr Corcoran said customer recruitment is not the main objective.

“The ambition at the start of the Cheltenham week is to make money. We hope to trade profitably through the week,” he said.

The bookmaker plans to spend about the same as last year on marketing of the event, though he said it expects to do so more efficiently. A year ago, the merger by which the company was created was only five weeks old, he said.

Efforts are being made to avoid a repeat of recent peak-time outages to the Betfair betting exchange, said Mr Corcoran.

“Next week is much more important than any of the last number of weeks,” he added.

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