UK gamblers use drones to hedge their bets at the horse races

Drones with live video feeds have become a major concern in the world of horse racing. The devices are being used to give bettors an unfair advantage for “live” betting. And yes, this is news to us as well.

A drone came plummeting to the ground a few days ago in the UK. It crashed on land right beside the major Chepstow horse racing track on Welsh Grand National Day (January 9). This is a major race day, with a £150,000 purse. It’s also – like other horse races – an event where people place online bets. What’s more, many participate in what’s known as “live betting” – where the bets are placed after the race is underway.

And that’s where drones come in.

Why are drones an advantage in live betting?

The normal way that this happens – especially during the time of the pandemic – is that such bets are placed while the bettor watches a video feed of the race. They have to act quickly, or course, because races don’t tend to be very long affairs. But clearly, if a horse is at the back of the pack after the race starts you’re not likely to place a bet on it. Instead, you’re going to go with whichever horse and jockey appear to have the best chances of winning. Right?

Right. However, the tracks have a slight delay between realtime and the video feed. That lag is generally about two seconds. But just think, if you had a two second advantage over other bettors? Put another way, if you could see two seconds into the future on that racetrack, compared with what everyone else is seeing?

That’s why the drones keep showing up.

The drones are providing real-time video

Sure, there might be a lag measured in milliseconds. But compared with the two-second delay of the “live” feed, the drone video feeds offer an incredible advantage to a bettor. And so, at pretty much every major horse race, you’re likely to see a drone pop up shortly before the race begins – and then land pretty much immediately afterwards.

In fact, the phenomenon has become so common that the BBC wrote about it in January of 2019. It quoted the Arena Racing Company, which owns more than a dozen racetracks around the country, saying that “Broadcast rights of our live action are a key part of our business. We consider this unauthorised filming and broadcasting as theft.”

Can’t they just bust the drone operators?

Well, it happens quickly. The drones go up, then land right after the race (and after those who are either on the ground with the drone or otherwise have access to its feed have placed their bets). The entire operation can be packed up and on the road very quickly.

Drone crashes at Welsh Grand National Day

Remember that big horse race we mentioned at the opening? Well, there was a drone there as well. But it crashed shortly after the first race was completed.

Might that be a Matrice?

Police were notified but did not apprehend anyone or lay charges. A story on Racingpost.com quoted the Director of the Racecourse Association as condemning drone flights at races.

The RCA condemns the flying of unauthorised drones on a raceday, particularly from a safety perspective given the potential damage that could be inflicted. We are working closely with all racecourses and the police to prevent this practise and will not hesitate to press charges in the appropriate circumstances.

Caroline Davies, Racecourse Services Director

Someone’s making money…

This might all seem kind of bizarre. But clearly, the system works for some people.

If you’d like more information on live betting, you can find it here.


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