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UK – Horseracing leaders unite to express ‘deep concern’ of affordability thresholds

By - 15 February 2021

Horseracing leaders have expressed their deep concern about the potential impact from the introduction of ‘affordability’ thresholds for online betting customers.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has submitted the industry’s response to the Gambling Commission’s consultation on remote customer interaction, which is considering new financial checks to address problem gambling. Around two-thirds of betting on racing is carried out online whilst the sport has low levels of problem gambling.

The submission focuses on the economic consequences for racing and jobs in rural areas, the lack of evidence in support of the intervention and the disproportionate impact on people who bet safely and lawfully. The BHA, the Racecourse Association (RCA) and The Horsemen’s Group (HG) discussed the industry’s response at a meeting last week and believe there could be a disastrous impact on racing’s finances and its recovery from COVID-19.

Racing supports the government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act and its intention to address the potential for harm. It agrees that gambling laws should be fit for the digital age as well as recognise the economic contribution made by the betting industry and associated industries such as horseracing. The BHA’s Members believe this is the appropriate way to consider a significant intervention such as a new affordability threshold and that Parliamentarians should examine any resulting proposals.

Industry executives also briefed Members on constructive discussions with government over the Winter Survival Fund, which includes a potential £40 million of loans to racing from the UK government.

The Fixtures and Funding Group, which includes representatives from the BHA, racecourses and horsemen, is working on a package of proposals for May onwards that include the fixture list and minimum prize money values. Proposals for Levy Board funding of the fixture list in May and June will be considered at its meeting on 22nd February. It is expected the fixture list will be agreed and published before the end of February.

The Members reviewed work done in recent months on the financial return to racing from the Horserace Betting Levy, which was carried out by the Levy Steering Group set up in October. It examined the revenues generated by betting on the sport, including media rights payments, as well as historic trends and the potential for future growth amidst the shift to online betting, which has been accelerated by COVID-19.

Members agreed that executives will progress discussions with the betting industry to identify potential reforms that could grow revenues on racing for all parties, in line with the sport’s commitment to responsible gambling.

There is a clear willingness on racing’s part to consider innovations that will make horseracing an even more attractive proposition to betting customers. In these discussions, industry executives will put forward proposals for urgent reform of the Levy based on the turnover from betting on racing, including bets on overseas racing.

With the possibility of a damaging regulatory intervention on affordability, as well as the impact of betting shop closures and the absence of spectators, racing’s leaders see the need to adopt a flexible and collaborative approach. Executives are ready to develop proposals in dialogue with betting operators, whilst providing the government with fresh evidence of market changes that have taken place since 2017, to demonstrate the case for reform.

Racing’s leaders recognise the need to engage with government in 2021 on a wide range of issues, including COVID-19, the Gambling Act review, Levy Reform and Brexit. They emphasised how the £4 billion racing industry can play its part in wider economic recovery, especially in rural areas of England, Scotland and Wales. Racing is also working with government to promote Britain to the world for international trade and investment.

Racing continues to engage with government and Devolved Administrations over the return of spectators to sport, and the relaxation of restrictions which currently exclude owners and limit participation to professionals. All those in the industry are strongly encouraged to continue to abide by government and industry guidelines on social distancing and other measures, whether at meetings behind closed doors, in their workplace or away from work.

“A majority of our work, and of leaders across the industry, is currently focused on a range of financial issues that are vital to racing recovering from the impact of COVID,” said Julie Harrington, Chief Executive of the BHA.

“We have to plan for a range of possibilities and are working with government and other sports on the return of spectators and owners as soon as that is possible. We thank our owners for their patience and continued support amidst the current uncertainty.”

David Armstrong, Chief Executive of the RCA, commented: “Racing is approaching the most critical period since the beginning of the pandemic. With external regulatory issues facing us in the form of the Affordability Review, the Gambling Act Review and Brexit plus no immediate prospect of racegoers returning, the next six months will be the most crucial period on our Recovery journey. The support from the Members Committee at this time is very welcome – the industry must pull together in these challenging times”.

Charlie Liverton, Chief Executive of the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA), added: “The effect of COVID-19 continues to impact British Racing, both on and off the racecourse. The potential ramifications of Government reviews including the Gambling Act and the Affordability Review are concerning, and the support from the Members Committee in tackling these challenges is very welcome.

“Owners continue to support the industry week in, week out, and we extend our sincere thanks once again for their contributions. The return of owners to the racecourse remains a key objective, working with the RCA and BHA to open up racecourses to racegoers as soon as regulations allow.”

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