Establishing the racing right as the principal means of funding British racing remains by far the most important subject on the industry agenda.
Amazingly, there are people within racing who still do not acknowledge this fact and, for reasons impossible to fathom, believe we should cling on to the levy system and actually be grateful for its continued existence.
They continue to swallow bookmaker propaganda and justify their beliefs on the basis that ‘the levy is safe’, while British racing continues to lose out massively. There can be no other outcome when virtually all those bets that are struck online – and many that are made by phone – are simply diverted overseas to avoid levy payment. This so-called leakage is now estimated to be £30 million.
In recent months the tectonic plates of the betting industry have begun to shift with news of mergers between Ladbrokes and Corals and then Paddy Power and Betfair
Without a racing right, this situation will only get worse as increasing numbers of people use smart phones and tablets while fewer horseracing punters go to betting shops.
It is true there have been some key players in the betting industry who have entered into agreements to pay racing the levy equivalent on those horseracing bets diverted overseas. But even when such an arrangement is underpinned by contract it can only ever be for a finite term.
In recent months the tectonic plates of the betting industry have begun to shift with news of mergers between Ladbrokes and Corals and then Paddy Power and Betfair. With the consequences of these developments so uncertain, it would be wrong to base a substantial part of our income on ‘voluntary’ arrangements, however well-meaning they might appear.
It is not only that the racing right will deliver substantially more money to British horseracing – money that it is entitled to have – with absolute safety once the legislation is in place, it is also about ensuring the money will be spent in the best overall interests of the sport.
Having the racing right in place would allow a new tripartite body, made up of the BHA, the Horseman’s Group and the racecourses, to use this money judiciously. As the holder of the purse strings, this body would be able to take a holistic approach that would address many of the concerns that we currently have with both the race programme and fixture list.
There has never been any doubt that establishing a racing right would be challenging. Even with the full support of Chancellor George Osborne and such inspired politicians as Matthew Hancock, EU state aid law and domestic competition law remain two very big hurdles to be jumped.
But a lot of work is now taking place between racing and government officials, with a target date for including the new legislation in the 2016 Queen’s Speech. We also have to take encouragement from the on-going dialogue between the BHA and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, and the Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, both of whom are properly engaged in the subject.
Even discussions between racing and bookmakers are becoming less focussed on the legal challenges and more concerned with how the new system would actually work. The development of a rate card would be central to this, as it would set out the various amounts betting operators would have to pay for taking bets on British horseracing from British-based punters.
And, since we’re starting with a clean-sheet, we must ensure we return to a system based on turnover rather than gross win. Not only would this have the benefit of simplicity, but it would remove the unease associated with the level of racing’s income being in direct relation to punters’ losses.
That aside, the route to obtaining a racing right it is to identify the common interests between British horseracing and the betting industry. But, while this may be a rational approach, we must ensure that a warming of relations does not mean a compromising of our objectives.