Vicky Knight

Vicky Knight

JenningsBet's Vicky Knight looks forward to betting shops being open for Aintree.

'The Grand National is the boost that racing and the economy need'

After two years of lockdowns, restrictions and disruption, it's a delight to welcome punters to JenningsBet shops this week for the Grand National. It’s hard to believe, but this will be the first time we've opened our doors to customers for the Grand National since 2019.

For bookmakers, there's no race like it. The Grand National is always the busiest day of the year and the atmosphere in our shops is amazing. We'll have 50 per cent more staff on shift on Grand National day and all of our shops will open early at 8am so that customers have plenty of time to get their bets on. Our staff know they'll be busy – the last time shops were open in 2019, we took 112 bets a minute up to the race going off.

This year the atmosphere will be even more special. Our 86 shops will be buzzing, especially our new branch in Ware, which opens on Grand National day itself. The contrast between now and 2020 is remarkable.

Back in 2020, in the early days of the national lockdown, the Grand National took the form of a virtual race. It was hugely successful in its own right, raising £2.9 million for NHS Charities Together.

There was something of a return to normal last year, albeit with no fans at Aintree, and betting shops remained shuttered.

Last year’s race was no less sensational, though, as Rachael Blackmore made history by becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National. After her victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, those of us not lucky enough to be at Aintree will be glued to the TV to see if she can pull off another historic win.

But, whatever happens, we're in for a spectacular few days of racing and our shop teams are really excited to be sharing the big day with their customers for the first time in years.

Some of our older and regular customers have been following the Grand National for decades. It's wonderful to hear them share their memories of racing legends from the past. The fact they can watch the Grand National and share a laugh with their friends in their local bookies makes this year's race especially poignant.

Bookies are a microcosm of society. Our customers come from all walks of life, but they're united by a love of racing and sport generally.

Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, wrote recently that racing and betting were joined at the hip – never more so than during the Grand National.

After the challenges of the past two years, the Grand National will be a huge boost to the country. It's one of those special sporting events that brings friends, families and communities together. It generates business for our high streets and goodness knows they could do with a boost after Covid.

With a worldwide audience of 500 million, it's also one of the world’s most watched sporting spectacles, putting Britain on the map as a centre of sporting excellence.

Racing has been badly affected by the pandemic. In good times, the sport generates more than £4 billion for the economy and supports around 85,000 jobs. But at the height of the first lockdown in 2020, British racecourses were losing more than £8.2 million a month.

Without the support of the betting industry, which contributes £350 million to racing through sponsorship, media rights and the levy, racing – and other sports - would have struggled to survive the pandemic.

Racing needs 2022 to be a good year and the early signs are that it will be. The success of Cheltenham, which poured £100 million into the local economy and attracted record crowds, suggests Britain hasn't lost its passion for racing.

Of course, Covid hasn't gone away. We’ve seen a surge in cases in recent weeks as the latest variant spreads across the country. Having kept our customers safe for the past two years, we’re not about to let our guard down now. We’ll continue to deep clean our shops, offer hand sanitiser and put safety first, as always.

After two years we'd all like to forget, the Grand National is properly back, and let's hope it’s bigger and better than ever. The Grand National is the boost that racing and the economy need.

Vicky Knight is retail compliance manager for JenningsBet

First printed in the Racing Post.

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