As early 2021 repeats the challenges of 2020, racing must be attuned to the challenges it faces and tackle them quickly. Top of the list is the sport’s relationship with gambling.
With a government review of the Gambling Act in motion, our partnership needs to be protected and expanded.
While owners provide the bulk of investment in racing, betting is the second largest revenue stream. People up and down the country enjoying the races and having a bet contributes a significant amount to the sport. The gambling levy, bookmakers’ media rights payments, sponsorship and corporate hospitality all provide revenue for racing. The relationship is symbiotic: better and more racing with responsible gambling is good for racing and betting firms, while effective redistribution models allow racing to better share in the revenue created and grow the product. Racing and betting firms can support each other to grow.
While the relationship is not always straightforward, it is important to the sport. Having a bet and getting involved in a race is a brilliant addition to a day at the races. I have always been a believer in mutual interest and clearly there is a way forward of our sport that grows the product, the sport and the potential revenue to both betting firms, owners and other stakeholders.
This relationship, revenue and mutual interest is under threat from ongoing reviews of gambling regulation by the government and the regulator, the Gambling Commission. After the pandemic, the reviews present potentially the biggest cloud on the horizon for British racing.
Responsible gambling is and must continue to be a priority for the industry and should continue to be promoted by racing and by the gambling industry. The recent expansion of self-help tools is a huge step forward and shows extensive and impressive progress in and commitment to this area. Gambling regulation in the UK is more advanced than anywhere else in the world. We lead the way on responsible gambling.
“It is not for government or regulators to tell me where I can and cannot spend my money”
As plans for regulation are assessed there are clearly egregious areas which are not based on clear evidence and that unduly contradict the value of personal responsibility and common sense while hugely impacting revenue. Affordability is one of those.
It is not for government or regulators to take it upon themselves to tell me where I can and cannot spend my money. The next time I visit the supermarket, will I be asked for a liver function test certificate or my P60 if I add a second box of wine to the trolley? When I ask the Lambourn butcher for an extra 12 sausages, will I be asked to produce my latest BMI score?
The original call for evidence included a suggestion that strict monthly spend limits that could only be increased by the production of personal tax records, bank records or pay slips. I do not know of any other pastime that requires this personal information. The proposals are an infringement on civil liberties. Furthermore, they do not work to protect those most at risk.
British racing’s working group is making good progress on our submission to the Gambling Commission, which firmly rebuffs both the practical and philosophical aspects of the proposed limits. Despite it feeling like a fait accompli, the industry is determined to push hard on the pitfalls of this potential regulation.
Consumer protection exists, works well and can continue to progress without costing the government and racing – which is the second most watched sport in the UK – valuable revenue in these challenging times. Proposals such as affordability caps have the potential to ruin racing’s revenues and send the sport back decades. We cannot allow one-size-fits-all regulation to prevent people from having a casual flutter and enjoying a day at the races. Over-regulation risks a lot of the progress the government has already made to boost racing’s revenue streams.
Looking at 2021 and the immediate challenges, racing needs to work harder than ever before. We need to ensure the government understands the risks of its policies, be they the movement of goods across borders, the return of spectators or gambling regulation. The government should look to grow Britain’s second most popular sport, not stifle it. There is a strong collaborative effort to make racing’s views clear that gives me cause for optimism in these challenging times.