Ladbrokes is a name that’s been synonymous with horse racing for what seems like forever, with their on-course signs a staple of the sport.

Channel 4 Racing shows with the now-departed John McCririck regularly featured a spot dubbed “the Magic Sign”, a popular nickname for Ladbrokes.

Years ago, it would have been unthinkable for the betting company to withdraw from the rails – but that’s exactly what happened.

In 2020 Ladbrokes announced they’d no longer have a live presence at the races – but what would this mean for horse racing? Would Ladbrokes be withdrawing from the market completely?

Here’s a closer look at what’s happened in recent years and what the future looks like.

A Long History With The Track

Ladbrokes’ history with horses dates back to the 19th century, with the founders of the firm having a proven record of horse training.

However, in 1902 their model changed when a bookmaker joined the company, and they focused on the elite horse betting market.

By 1913 Ladbrokes started to concentrate their operation on the horse racing tracks and broke all the records by employing the very first female bookmaker.

In the 1950s, Ladbrokes moved into greyhound racing, setting up trackside betting. However, they retained their very successful horse racing business, continuing to work with elite clientele.

And when betting shops were made legal in 1961, Ladbrokes were leading the field, becoming the first chain retail bookies in the UK.

Despite diversifying and expanding globally, the bookmaker retained a strong association with on-course horse racing. Ladbrokes were an essential part of the racing day for many horse racing fans with their presence on the course.

This is even after the entity was acquired in 2018 by, then GVC Holdings, now Entain, a group that already has huge online presence through the likes of PartyCasino and other world renowned gaming services.

Making The Change

In 2020, Ladbrokes announced that they would be withdrawing from racecourses in the UK and Ireland; and selling all of their pitches. At the time of the sale, Ladbrokes held 106 racecourse pitches which were sold en bloc to a competitor.

Ladbrokes said that the decision to pull out was “not taken lightly” but believed to be necessary due to the change in business volumes.

While recent global events exacerbated the issues with racecourse profits, it wasn’t the sole reason for the change.

The bookmaker described its racecourse operation as being “loss-making” and said it was no longer required for “strategic purposes”.

The Future For Ladbrokes

The move away from the racecourse may seem as if Ladbrokes is pulling out of horse racing and pooling its efforts elsewhere, but that’s not the case. In fact, they’re not the only bookmaker to switch their attention from on-course racing to off-course and online.

Rather than being a death knell for Ladbrokes continuing to support horse racing, it’s a sign that the firm believes there’s still a big future in the sport.

By switching to online and digital services, Ladbrokes are putting a lot of time and effort into bringing their horse racing betting into the future.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that horse racing will be the only betting venture that Ladbrokes pursue. The bookmaker is renowned for its wide range of sports plus its own leading online casino brand that offers roulette, slots and table games.

But as Ladbrokes moves forward, horse racing will undoubtedly remain very much at the heart of what they offer, with digital, online and other services developing in the future.