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Picture : Hollywoodbets have naming rights for four racecourses around the country, including Hollywoodbets Greyville, and they sponsor the country’s premier race, the Hollywoodbets Durban July, among other races. (Getty)
Mike Moon (The Citizen)

Hollywood, Betway and WSB pour money into the local game.

It is a grand irony that the late, largely unlamented, racing firm Phumelela spent decades fighting bookmakers over various issues, yet now, half a dozen years later, bookies have pretty much taken over the game in South Africa.
During the past week, KwaZulu-Natal operator Gold Circle announced it intended selling all its interests to Hollywoodbets, a Durban-born company that has become a global outfit richer than Croesus, and financier Greg Bortz.
This rescue job follows the phenomenal one Bortz and Hollywoodbets performed on Cape Town racing in 2022.
Then, international bookmaker Betway unveiled a major sponsorship initiative with 4Racing – the company that rose from the ashes of Phumelela and now runs Highveld and Eastern Cape racing.
The Gold Circle Racing Club board, anticipating an R80-million loss in the year to 31 July 2023 and a R100-million loss in the following year, has urged its members to accept an offer of R400-million from Hollywood Sportsbook Holdings, bolstered by R100-million from Bortz.
The rationale is that the buyers have the survival of racing at heart, as proven by their revamp in Western Cape. This is in stark contrast to Phumelela’s old courtroom argument that bookies were trying to bleed the game dry.
One of Phumelela’s moans was that bookmakers were offering the so-called “open bet” – mirrored tote odds – thus denying operators their rightful gambling turnover. Another was the pencil men not paying enough for the television picture beamed into betting shops.
Leading the charge in that Quixotic interlude was Phumelela CEO Rian du Plessis, a close associate of the infamous Markus Jooste. The latter had fallen for the magic of horseracing and, in a style reminiscent of his Steinhoff machinations, got his tentacles into most corners of the game.
For example, Jooste’s racing company Mayfair Speculators was the second largest shareholder in Phumelela – through an entity called Kalamojo Trading. Phumelela was known to be a generous payer of dividends, while Du Plessis conjured up a phalanx of new betting enterprises and partnerships with other wagering companies … but that’s another story.
When Steinhoff hit the fan in late 2017, everything linked to it took a knock, including Phumelela – which also got hammered by an absurd and illegal ruling from Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane that the company no longer get its mandated 3% cut of betting turnover to keep racing running.
Du Plessis stayed on as CEO for a while but eventually quit when Phumelela’s finances looked a tad rosier (though they surely weren’t in the long run).
When Covid and bad management eventually did for Phumelela, Du Plessis popped up unexpectedly to voice support for a rescue bid by British bookmaker Betfred. This from a sometime sworn enemy of the oddsmakers had the industry aghast and Mary Oppenheimer Daughters (MOD) easily won the contest to take over Highveld and EC racing.
4Racing was the company set up for the task and it has got things ticking over in an orderly and respectable fashion over the past couple of years.
Betway, which had already announced a massive R5-million sponsorship for Joburg’s biggest race, the Summer Cup, in late November, this week underlined confidence in the new, bookmaker-friendly environment at Turffontein Racecourse.
Betway will sponsor 13 race days on the Highveld and in Eastern Cape, with bonus incentives and stakes increases.
The Betway Spring Series kicked off on Friday at Fairview with the Betway Jockey Club Stakes. It concludes with the Joburg Spring Challenge at Turffontein on 7 October.
Betway will also sponsor the Grade 3 Graham Beck Stakes on Charity Mile day in October and the Victory Moon Stakes day in November.
With rival World Sports Betting having already joined the trend with major race sponsorships in all centres, there seems to be no stopping the bookie heist.