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02 July 2020

Hugh O’Donnell, co-founder of the Racehorse Lotto explains how the concept was born and its potential contribution to racing.

An inspired idea

As a family we always loved horse racing but could never in our wildest dreams afford to have horses in training.  So, I started to think about all the millions of racing fans around the country who visit racecourses and followed horses who cannot afford to own and train a racehorse.  I often found myself thinking about how many of them would aspire to the dream of racehorse ownership.  Over the last five years I moved into fundraising for various charities and I was able to learn about the power of lotteries. I quickly started to wonder if a lottery or competition concept could work in the racing sector – there are many competitions out there that allow you to win a car, so why not a racehorse?

Research paid off

In January 2019, while I was working as a fundraiser at the University of Cambridge, I met Mr Helmut Becker, the CEO of the major global lottery operator Zeal Network SE.  Helmut had completed his PHD at Cambridge and we met for a coffee one day. I told him about my idea to build a lottery for the racing sector. He knew absolutely nothing about racing or horses, so I took him to Newmarket and we visited the museum at Palace House and a training yard. I gave up my job at Cambridge and we set up Furlong Gaming Ltd and we worked with Zeal to run six months of research and testing, while we incubated the Racehorse Lotto concept. The results and data we gathered from this journey were so positive we knew we had a product and a market – so we raised the money we needed to build the platform and we launched in early 2020.

Founding the Racehorse Lotto

One of the founders and partners of the Racehorse Lotto is my old friend George Crofton (pictured above left, Hugh pictured above right). In 2001, George broke his neck and was left paralysed from the chest down. This catastrophic injury had a dramatic impact on George, his family and friends.  Through this journey we all learnt the importance of the various charities that operate here in the UK and overseas.  George went on to become a very effective fundraiser and grant manager for various charities and charitable projects. 

George and I have been friends since we were 14 and we have spent many days together visiting racecourses all over the UK. When we came up with the idea of the Racehorse Lotto, we wanted to ensure that the platform could effectively raise money for charity.  When the COVID-19 crisis worsened we were close to launching and we quickly realised that the charity Racing Welfare needed urgent help. So we selected them to be our charity partner for our core business.  We also wanted to do our part to raise money for the NHS. So, we managed to team up with Frankie Dettori and we raised just over £10,000 for the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 appeal in May. Our model is that 20% of our ticket sales is donated every month to our charity partner Racing Welfare.  We also run raffles every month and we are trying to select various projects and charities that need support.

Family love got me started

As a family we have always had a deep passion for horses and racing. I was born in Hong Kong and we were members of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. When we moved back to the UK, we lived close to Goodwood and I have many wonderful memories of visiting that beautiful racecourse. As I got older we used to go to Royal Ascot, York and Goodwood every year and this drove my love for the sport. My brother started to work in the racing industry, mainly on the breeding side.  In 2012, he was lucky enough to get a job as nominations manager at Juddmonte Farms when Frankel went to stud. Following Frankel on and off the racecourse was when I knew I was hooked on the sport!

Launching in a pandemic with no racing

Launching a new horseracing product when there was a national ban on racing was very daunting. After a year of hard work and research, my Board and our investors were keen to launch and learn from our customers.  We decided to go for it, and we launched on the 29th March 2020. We thought that if racing fans were willing to engage with our product while we had a ban on racing, we should be doing something right. I am delighted to say we are ahead of target and we are gathering a national following. With a ban on racing and mass gathering events, we decided to increase our cash prizes and we developed a free to play game called ‘On The Nose’. This game allows players to win up to £80 a day while playing a fun, free game of skill. We all hope we will be able to visit racecourses again very soon – our platform and prizes will be even better then!

A future of investing into British Racing

We have so many ideas we wish to launch as soon as possible. We are excited to offer a wide variety of prizes to racing fans all over the UK. Our focus will always be racehorse ownership and the lifestyle of owning racehorses and going racing. We have such an extraordinary heritage of racing here in the UK and I am intrigued by the potential of the Racehorse Lotto.  Our core vision is to build a lotto platform that has mass market appeal, so we have jackpot winners every week.  This will mean we are putting two or three new horses into training every week.  Between 40%-45% of our revenue will be spent on our racing prizes, which means it is essentially invested in British racing. Combined with that, 20% of our income is being donated to racing charities. So, we will see at least 60% of our income going back into British racing. This is what really excites and inspires me about our business model and at scale we hope to become a major racing investor and donor. 

Taking more responsibility

I think you could argue that every sector needs more social enterprise and should take more responsibility – not just racing.  The sport of racing has a huge following here in the UK and when you have a fans there are always innovative ways to engage with and develop ideas. It is down to the movers and shakers of the industry to have the ability to seek out innovation and have the bravery to try new ideas. There should always be people who are willing to support extraordinary ideas and nurture them – while not being scared to see projects fail!

What is Racehorse Lotto?

Based on a lottery draw of five numbers, either selected by the player or at random, entrants can win from small cash prizes and gift vouchers to sole ownership of a racehorse for a year, plus £30,000 cash.

Cost of entry is £3 per line and a draw is made every Friday at 3pm.

Find out more about The Racehorse Lotto here.

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