Virtual horse racing was the first virtual sport to be launched and it has proved very popular with a number of punters. We’ll explain more about what it is shortly but let’s cut straight to the chase: is it rigged and does the punter have a fair chance of winning?
Whilst lots of sports betting fans will gladly bet on virtual horse racing and other virtual sports, there are lots who avoid it because of a suspicion that it is fixed. Well, there are several good arguments as to why you shouldn’t partake in virtual sports betting but the idea of it being fixed is absolutely not one of them. Virtual sports, including racing, are in no way fixed, rigged or manipulated by the bookies.
How Does Virtual Racing Work?
Whilst virtual racing falls under the umbrella of virtual sports, in some ways, it is more accurate to view this type of gambling as a form of casino wagering, overlaid with horses (or digital football teams, racing cars or anything else). Perhaps the best analogy to make is with playing online roulette, which, like all non-live casino games relies on Random Number Generator (RNG) software.
As said, we are talking about non-live casino games here. Live dealer casinos are simply live streams of real wheels and cards and therefore work just as a real-world casino does. Digitised, effectively “virtual”, games of roulette or blackjack (or just about anything else) essentially work in just the same way as virtual horse racing.
In a sense, you are not betting on a horse or a slot of the roulette wheel but on what number the RNG will throw up. Whilst you may see graphics of a horse race or an online casino game, they are simply visual representations of the underlying RNG.
With roulette, the way this works is more obvious as people can easily understand that an RNG is programmed to generate a number between zero and 36. Even then, there are still some players who do not trust this technology and think that online casinos are fixed or rigged. But then there are some who think the world is flat and controlled by lizards!
How Does the RNG Work with Racing?
It is simple to understand that a Random Number Generator can create a winner at roulette. It generates a valid number and this is then represented graphically by the ball landing in that number on a digital wheel. But how does it work with a horse race to reflect the fact that the horses in a race have different chances of winning and different odds?
For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that the bookmaker is not taking anything and there is no overround. In such an example, a two-horse race where both animals had the same chance of winning would see both horses priced at evens. If there were eight horses running and all eight were deemed co-favourites, then each would be priced at odds of 7/1. This means you could bet £10 on all runners and no matter what you would end up breaking even and getting £10 back.
However, as we have said, when it comes to virtual horse racing, the RNG needs to take into account the fact that the horses do not have an equal chance of winning, so how does it do that? In simple terms, if we view the RNG as a raffle (apologies as we now seem to have an analogy inside an analogy!), whilst every ticket has the same chance of winning, the favourite virtual horse has more tickets in the raffle.
Let us illustrate this with a simple example as indicated below and again excluding any margin for the bookmaker:
- Favourite Fred @ 6/4 – receives 40 “tickets” to the RNG “raffle”
- Gotta Chance Gaz @ 3/1 – receives 25 tickets
- Maybe Mavis @ 4/1 – receives 20 tickets
- Hopeless Harry @ 9/1 – receives 10 tickets
- Donkey Dylan @ 19/1 – receives five tickets
For the sake of this example we have created a “raffle” with 100 tickets. The favourite, priced at 6/4, has a 40% chance of winning the race and is assigned ticket numbers one to 40. The second favourite’s 3/1 odds imply a probability of winning of 25%, so they get numbers 41-65, and so on for the rest of the horses in our virtual race.
The RNG selects a number entirely at random, so number one is as likely to be drawn as number 100, number 99, number 13 or any other number. But because Favourite Fred will win the graphic representation of a race when any one of 40 numbers is selected, he has the best chance of success. In contrast, Donkey Dylan needs one of just five numbers to hit to win and as such the favourite is eight times more likely to win (albeit at odds 1/8th of the size!).
Are RNGs Fair and Truly Random?
Whilst we have now explained the maths behind virtual racing and how they use RNGs, we have not really addressed the issue of concerns about rigging. Let us once again say what we said at the start of this piece: virtual racing is not fixed.
We state this with great certainty for a number of reasons and the first is logical rather than evidence-based (which we’ll also discuss). Whilst our examples above are based on zero overround and no overall win for the bookmaker, in reality, the odds for virtual horse racing and other sports are nowhere near that generous.
Instead of two horses with equal chances being priced at evens in a match bet, you would actually find both horses available at anywhere between 10/11 (overround of 104.8) and 8/11 (overround 115.8). We analysed the odds from a selection of virtual races at random and found the overround to be between 111 and 115. In the simplest of simple terms, this means the bookie wins!
The Bookies Are Always Up Anyway
Put another way, they don’t need to cheat or fix the races because the odds are so firmly in their favour that in the long term they are certain to win. Any punter can get lucky at any time and win but bookies take thousands of bets a day and the combination of random, wholly unpredictable results, and their overround (odds lower than the probability would deem “fair”), means that they will always win in the end.
Wikipedia’s page on virtual racing has a figure of 2% per horse as an overround and this is a figure you will see regurgitated at many sites despite the fact there is no valid source. Our research suggests a slightly lower overround but the conclusion is the same: bookies do not need to fix a game that is already so favourable to them and one that cannot be beaten through any skill or knowledge on the part of the punter.
William Hill actually publish details of the RTP for the different virtual bets they offer. The Return to Player expresses what proportion of their stake a gambler can expect to get back (on average). They state, “The RTP (return to player) is between 76.92% and 95.23% depending upon the sport and type of market…”. With numbers like that why cheat and risk huge fines and bad press?
Tested by Third Party Organisations
Another reason we can be sure that these games are not fixed is that the RNGs used by the big sites are independently tested by third party organisations. On the William Hill page above they state that “The fairness of our Random Number Generator and our Virtual sports has been independently tested and certified by GLI Europe.”.
GLI, or Gaming Laboratories International, are a hugely reputable company, founded in 1989. They provide many services to the iGaming industry and their certification allows operators to make sure they meet the Gambling Commission’s Remote Gambling and Software Technical Standards, as well as other industry standards.
Regulation in the UK is as tight and as thorough as anywhere in the world so you can be sure that if a site is satisfying the Gambling Commission, they very likely to be totally above board. Of course, there are those that dismiss such data and who will believe any conspiracy theory they hear. Such people may argue that the lizards run the bookies, the testing labs and the Gambling Commission and of course it is impossible to counter this sort of argument. But unless you want to go down that route, believe us when we say that virtual racing is totally fair (if you ignore the very bad odds!).
But I Keep Losing!
All of this logic and talk of RNGs sounds all well and good but if you’ve backed 10 losing favourites in a row it can sometimes be hard to believe. But that’s sport and that’s gambling. Every single day in the real world horses lose at odds-on, whilst others win at 200/1. Sport is unpredictable.
Play roulette long enough and a streak of 10 or more reds or blacks in a row is inevitable. 10 reds in a row is actually only as likely as a sequence of five blacks and five reds, or 10 of alternating colour, but if you happen to have lost 10 almost-even-money bets in a row it is easy to think the system is rigged.
Returning to virtual horses, the same applies, if you bet on races often enough you are almost certain to see streaks that seem unnatural. But that is exactly what a random machine will do if you observe it long enough. What’s more, many bookies use the same third party companies to power their virtual sports, although they take bets individually.
Software companies, such as Inspired Entertainment (who at one stage accounted for 90% of the UK market) and BetRadar, provide virtual sports to many sites. It is possible to see the results of past races and these are the same. If a horse has won the 11.03 at Portman Park then it has won the 11.03 at Portman Park no matter which bookmaker you bet with, and that is verifiable.
Given each bookie accepts bets on the same races, it is implausible these would be fixed as what might be a successful outcome for one site may cause another a huge loss. It is not the skill of a jockey, the speed of a horse or the statistical analysis of a punter that counts. Nor is it the Machiavellian scheming of a bookmaker engineering the most favourable outcome. It is simply chance and our friend the Random Number Generator.
History of Virtual Horse Racing
Perhaps another indication of the authenticity, in the sense of being fair, of virtual racing, is that it has stood the test of time. Virtual horse racing began in May 2003 as a “cooperative venture among the leading bookmaking firms in the UK” and whilst racing purists dismissed it at the time, it has proved very popular.
The Racing Post reported, “What is this abomination? It’s a computerised ‘race’ on which betting is supposedly conducted”. It continued, saying, “This isn’t animated roulette. It isn’t even roulette. It is plain and simple trash.” However, a fan of the first ever virtual racing at mythical track Portman Park responded to the Racing Post stating that, “It’s wonderful. I can remember when there were gaps between races and you had to sit and look at the paper…”. Others loved the fact that you never had to worry about non-runners.
One interesting positive that some punters have taken is not that virtual racing is corrupt or fixed, but that it is actually fairer than racing in the real world. Punters felt that virtual racing meant they weren’t likely to fall foul of bent jockeys or trainers. This was even more the case in the less lucrative world of greyhound racing, with virtual dogs proving a huge hit with punters.
Indeed, virtual greyhounds, which came along in 2005, was arguably even more popular than virtual horses. The Guardian feature linked to above quoted the chief executive of Inspired Entertainment as explaining how one betting shop took more on virtual dogs in the first eight weeks than they had on real dogs in the preceding 12 months!
Is Virtual Racing Fixed: Conclusion
Hopefully we have explained to you why we have absolutely no doubts that virtual horse racing (and indeed all virtual sports) are not fixed. They are run by reputable companies and use RNG software that is tested and verified by trustworthy and independent third parties. This testing helps the bookies comply with probably the most stringent regulatory body in the gambling world.
In addition, a number of bookmakers use the same software and this delivers the same results, which can be checked and verified. Given the fact that bets are taken by each bookie in turn (meaning each would favour a different result according to the bets they have taken), this is another reason to doubt the claims that virtuals are fixed.
Lastly, as we have said, virtual sports are good business for bookmakers based simply on the generous overground they use. What’s more, virtual races operate almost every three minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With a handsome margin, no vulnerability to being outsmarted by shrewd punters and hundreds of virtual events every single day of the year, bookies just do not need to fix things.
We are certain that virtual racing is above board and so if you want to bet on virtual sports do not let doubts about it being rigged stop you. However, logic dictates that something that is very good for bookies must be a bad bet, statistically speaking, for punters. What’s more, with races every three minutes, betting on these events can be rather addictive. So, whilst they are not fixed, they may not be the best option for many punters and caution is certainly advised.