It was good to see 49’s Ltd making its Bookmakers’ Trade Fair debut. Set up in 1996 as a joint venture between Ladbrokes, William Hill and Coral but serving the whole of the betting industry, 49’s was essentially designed to help plug the gaps between live races.
Its very existence was initially threatened by National Lottery provider Camelot, who sought court legislation, claiming 49’s was an illegal lottery. However, the decision in April 1997 of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute 49’s effectively put an end to Camelot’s challenge and secured its future.
Today, 49’s Ltd manage the development, operation and delivery of five products – 49’s, Irish Lotto Bet (known as Lucky Numbers in Ireland), Virtual Horse Racing, Virtual Greyhound Racing and Rapido. All five products are provided to over 10,000 betting shops across the UK and Ireland, comprising around 300 events per week.
Initially run as just one draw per day, it was increased to two in November 1997 – at lunchtime and teatime – which is where it has remained ever since.
The number of daily draws may not have changed but plenty else has during the last couple of years, as David Purvis, 49’s chief executive officer, outlined:
“Not only have we updated the graphics and the theme tune, in July we introduced live 49’s presenters. That’s been a great success both anecdotally and from shop performance. The results have been very encouraging with a lot of good feedback.
“We’ve upgraded the virtual horseracing and greyhounds, and in the last 12 months we’ve introduced a brand new website, along with a new results app for both iOS and Android devices.
“The 49s.co.uk website gets over seven million hits every month, six million of those being made using mobile devices, so customers should find our new app a fast and effective way to access our site.”
The mechanics of the 49’s are straightforward, the levels of security and integrity extremely robust.
The draws take place at SIS’s broadcast studio in Salford’s MediaCity in the presence of an invigilator. Two people withdraw the balls (which are made of solid rubber) from a safe; the balls are weighed individually and logged via the invigilator before being placed into the drum.
The draw takes place, the results are cross-checked, broadcast, and then the balls are individually weighed back out and the weights recorded. As solid rubber can be affected by atmospheric pressure and temperature, minor weight fluctuations can occur. If any are found to vary by more than 0.2 grams, a new set of balls is used.
A few clicks on the 49’s website will reveal the hottest ball in the last month, the last two years, or from when it began. It can tell you the most drawn number and the least drawn number. Not altogether surprisingly given the length of time 49’s have been operating, the stats show that there’s only a narrow gap between them.
The introduction of the Health Lottery in October 2011 saw a temporary dip in income for 49’s, particularly with the Irish Lotto Bet, but the company has risen to the challenge.
Said David: “We’ve tried to refresh the products; simple things, such as making the logos more three-dimensional, to keep the products feeling new.
“We currently have six presenters. We use them to do different prompts, reminding customers about draw times, marketing collateral in the shops and engaging with staff and customers on social media.
“In the last six months we’ve done everything in 3D, so we’re consistently looking at making the products better, but the most important thing is that we constantly keep them fresh so nothing becomes like wallpaper. The presenters are an integral part of our marketing activity.
“We’re a small, close-knit team and I like to think we punch above our weight.”