Anyone who has the welfare of British racing at heart should applaud the Conservative Party’s general election victory. Far be it from me to tell people where their political affiliations should lie, but no recent government has sent stronger messages of support to the British racing industry than that headed by David Cameron and George Osborne.
It was, therefore, entirely apt that the BHA’s Chief Executive, Nick Rust, should respond to the result with a loud and positive message, saying that it would hasten the day when a racing right would replace the levy as racing’s principal funding mechanism.
Our sport has been the major supporter of bookmaker businesses since the early 1960s and it was for this reason the levy was set up in the first place
While it was unnecessary for some too-clever-by-half commentators to point out that Messrs Cameron and Osborne would have a few other things to sort out before they turned their attentions to the racing industry, how much worse it was that the joint-Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Racing and Bloodstock Group, Laurence Robertson, used the occasion to pour cold water on the concept of a racing right.
For a person who is supposedly sharing the leadership of the House of Commons’ racing group, his comments were at best inappropriate and at worst harmful to the industry whose interests he should be helping to protect.
As the Right Honourable member for Tewkesbury will be aware, it is entirely gratuitous for him to say at this stage that the racing right could draw a complaint from the EU, as if we didn’t know. Yes, Mr Robertson, European compliance is one of a number of obstacles we and the government are confronting but it hardly assists our case when a man supposedly there to help racing betrays such a negative attitude.
You must also question why Mr Robertson is publicly querying the fact that a special case should be made for racing in front of other sports on which there is betting. And why is he wondering aloud whether a racing right is going to produce more money for racing and then actually raising concerns that the introduction of a racing right might mean a bigger bill for the bookmakers? Are these not questions that should be asked by someone who is against racing generating more revenue, not for it?
Be that as it may, it is not difficult to argue why racing should remain a special case. Our sport has been the major supporter of bookmaker businesses since the early 1960s and it was for this reason the levy was set up in the first place. Nobody is blind to the fact that the betting world has changed dramatically since then but, even today, virtually all bookmakers would concede that racing is more important to them than any other sport on which they take bets, if not always in terms of betting volumes then certainly in terms of attracting people to their shops.
Betting aside, this government recognises, more than any other before it, the huge social and economic benefits that stem from the racing industry, with its far-reaching implications for the rural economy. You would think Mr Robertson, of all people, might also see this as justifying racing’s ‘special case’ treatment.
Mr Robertson asks where the extra money is coming from with the racing right. He is surely not oblivious to the fact that virtually every major bookmaker took their businesses offshore a few years ago to avoid paying UK tax and levy on their online and telephone accounts. The government has recently closed the tax loop-hole and everyone in racing – with the possible exception of Laurence Robertson – is looking forward to the other one being closed when the racing right is established.
As one would expect in this digital world, betting shop business is slowly eroding while online business increases. A racing right will allow us to tap into this overseas market and find an estimated £25m a year that legitimately belongs to British racing – and, yes, Mr Robertson, this will come from betting industry profits.