by Nick Rust, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority
I’m often described as a poacher turned gamekeeper; a former bookmaker who now finds himself running the governing body of British horseracing. This suggests what’s good for betting isn’t good for racing and vice versa. I couldn’t disagree more.
Earlier this week, the Government announced that it will introduce new legislation to make sure that all bookmakers who accept bets on the sport will pay a fair return to racing.
The news was described by some in the media as a “coup” and a “win” for racing, while others have been more measured in their response, understandably seeking more detail on the Government’s news.
Both reactions, I suggest, somewhat miss the point. Because I firmly believe that in years to come, we will look back on this week’s historic announcement as a win-win for both industries that gave us the platform for growth. And here’s why: Common interest.
Racing and betting share a common interest in the sport of horseracing. There is no better, bespoke betting product than ours in the world of sport. I find it impossible to think that either racing or betting could truly prosper and fulfil its potential without the other. That doesn’t mean to say that it’s a partnership without compromise or even tension at some times. But in my view, the relationship with betting and racing has stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time.
I want racing in this country to be funded properly at all levels of the sport. That means enticing owners, trainers, breeders into the sport, as well as the essential stud and stable staff to care for our horses, and providing everyone with fair and reasonable financial returns. A growing horse population will result in more competitive and compelling racing, and enable us to attract more customers and more people to share the excitement of a placing bet on a race, while investing in the welfare, education and integrity that are essential to our sport. The total pot grows, racing benefits, betting benefits.
Attention is now shifting to the rate of the new system, and what is meant by a “fair return.” I’m perfectly clear on this point. The Government said in its written statement on Thursday that it will ensure a “fair return from all bookmakers to racing, which has been lost simply because of the shift to remote and offshore betting.”
This means increasing the amount of funding betting provides to racing by capturing fully the 50 per cent of betting activity that takes place through digital channels, in addition to betting shops and the (very welcome) current voluntary contributions that Betfair, Bet365, 32Red and BetVictor have agreed to make under the ABP initiative. It also means a level-playing field for all betting operators.
I’m encouraged that some of the major retail bookmakers have now publicly said that they should pay a return based on their remote offshore betting. I’d urge them to see the additional funding not simply as a cost, but as an investment to grow the sport for mutual benefit.
This new system will see the will of Parliament since 1961 – that British Racing be appropriately funded from the significant betting activity on our sport – transformed for the digital age, to the benefit of both racing and betting.
There is one group of people who this impacts who I’ve yet to mention, but who, in many ways, are among the most important – the punters. I believe that a betting and racing industry working in tandem to promote the sport, and a funding mechanism that helps grow the sport, can only be of benefit to the betting public. I want to see more attractive, compelling, and competitive racing for our fans, which punters can bet on when and how they want, and a funding mechanism that ensures a fair return to the industry from their money.
What’s good for racing, can indeed be good for betting as well as our wonderful sport.
7 March 2016