Stepping down as ROA President after four and a half years, I am struck by how much progress racing has made during that time but, also, how much more there is still to accomplish. There are two achievements of which racing can be proud.
The first is the extent to which our industry has moved up the general political agenda so that this government has pledged serious support in developing a funding system based on a Racing Right to replace the levy.
The government recognises that for the first time in over half a century, racing is not getting its rightful share of betting revenues
The second is the way the industry itself has moved forward in working together. Under the new Members’ Agreement, the horsemen, racecourses and BHA have created a united front, allowing us to believe the vision we all have for British horseracing will be fulfilled.
The government is committed to racing’s welfare because it recognises how many jobs, directly and indirectly, depend on racing, while acknowledging the huge contribution this industry makes to UK plc.
The government also recognises that for the first time in over half a century, racing is not getting its rightful share of betting revenues.
The vital link between racing and betting is recognised the world over with each being dependent on the other. But here in the UK this essential cord has been ruptured by almost all bookmakers directing their bets overseas, thereby avoiding paying money to the Levy Board which, until recently, provided racing with its main source of funding.
This so-called “wastage”, originally just a trickle, has now become a torrent, so much so that racing now receives less than 60% of its entitlement.
It is why there is such an urgent need to set up a Racing Right system to replace the levy so that every bet struck in the UK on British horseracing is reflected in a payment to racing. Unfortunately, there are a range of legal and practical reasons why we cannot just switch a button to make this happen – and, of course, some notable members of the betting industry are exploiting these difficulties to their own ends.
This situation has given rise to the concept of the Authorised Betting Partner, an initiative set up by the Horsemen’s Group, BHA and Racecourse Association.
By signing up to be an ABP, betting operators receive a range of advantages including the use of a kitemark and promotional benefits as part of a marketing campaign (see page 12). In addition, ABPs will have the opportunity to negotiate preferential treatment from participating racecourses including having access to sponsorship of races and getting Wi-Fi provision.
In turn, the ABPs give an undertaking to pay racing a percentage of their gross profits on those horseracing bets they put through their overseas-based operations. It will not be the full 10.75% on gross profits that is required by the levy but it will be a discounted percentage that reflects the ABP status.
It is certainly disappointing, though not entirely surprising, that none of the big public-company bookmakers has yet signed up. Similarly, that some of their spokespeople are doing their best to ‘rubbish’ the concept.
But let us remember that bookmakers do not sponsor because they feel some sort of duty to help racing. They sponsor because it has marketing value for them. Withdrawal of sponsorship rights will therefore hurt them, however much they claim otherwise. It is important other racecourses come to the view that they should offer their own package of benefits to ABPs in the same way that JCR, ARC and the Scottish tracks have embraced the initiative.
It is also important that the world of racing gives as much credit as possible to the first three accredited ABP members – Betfair, Bet365 and 32Red. Many racehorse owners are also punters. Some may decide to vote with their feet and bet only with those betting operators who are ABP-accredited.
A good New Year’s resolution for all ROA members, I would have thought.