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Positive outcomes from collaboration

Charlie Liverton 2018 agmDue to Nicholas Cooper's ill-health, the speech was delivered in his absence by ROA Chief Executive Charlie Liverton... (pictured)

The President of the Racehorse Owners Association has hailed the positive outcomes of the horseracing industry working together, with expected record prize-money of over £160 million in 2018, a resurgence of levy funding and the setting up of a new Racing Authority.

Nicholas Cooper said at his association’s Annual General Meeting in London that these developments were all “good news for owners”.

He told his audience of ROA members and racing industry leaders: “It’s amazing what you can do when you work together and particularly when you can work with a government that listens to your concerns and acts on them, as this government has done. It is no accident that a unified voice in racing has led to this government’s receptivity.

“There’s no better example of what unity in the racing industry can achieve than the tri-partite agreement between horsemen, racecourses and BHA. This now underpins the new Racing Authority which, from next April, takes over the expenditure role of the statutory levy, for the first time allowing racing alone to be responsible for spending its own money.

“I’m sure everybody realises we simply cannot go back to the bad old days of racing administration when all the factions were at loggerheads, when we spent more time arguing amongst ourselves than concentrating on our common goals and successive governments simply lost patience with us.”

Mr Cooper said that continued government help – and he praised in particular the contribution of Culture Secretary Matthew Hancock - would remain crucial to racing and the personal links that had gradually been set up in recent years would be even more important as the sport tackled some major challenges. Among these, there are the looming problems posed by Brexit and those connected to betting shop closures due to the FOBT stake reduction.

He said: “We know that every time a betting shop closes, racing loses income and exposure. But many of us have long felt uneasy about supporting a socially dubious type of gambling to keep betting shops open so that racing’s revenue can be maintained.

“When the importance of FOBTs to betting shops diminishes, we may also feel reassured from knowing that horseracing, for so long the staple diet of the betting shop punter, may well return to being the bookmakers’ most important betting product. Good reason, then, for us to foster the best possible relationship with the betting industry to our mutual benefit.”

Mr Cooper said the idea that the levy being extended to capture UK betting on foreign racing sounded very promising, as Irish racing does.

He continued: “I believe that we should also take some encouragement from the fact there are at least conversations now going on as to what the future funding model of British racing could look like.

“From racing’s standpoint there is a logic to this. Betting margins on horseracing are higher in shops than on-line if there are to be shop closures, then on-line betting volumes will gradually increase at the cost of business in shops. As this happens, so the racing levy, now based on 10% of gross profits, will suffer because of those lower margins. A move back to turnover would not only smooth out this difference, but it would create a much truer reflection of all betting operators’ horseracing business.”

The ROA President also discussed the end next month of Betfred’s monopoly on pool betting and how racing was addressing the future.

He said: “The prospect of pool betting gaining a proper foothold in this country will surely improve significantly if the already very weak liquidity of tote pools is not divided further between competing suppliers. There are obvious and compelling reasons for the two major contenders in this area to come together and we must hope their current discussions leads to an agreement in the autumn.

“Britbet, the new company made up of 55 racecourses, may seem an exciting innovation, but - on its own - would it struggle to deliver a total package for pool betting without significant access to the off-course market? This access could come via the Alizeti consortium which completed the purchase of a 25% stake in Betfred’s Tote business in May, with an option to obtain the remaining 75% in the third year.

“There is an obvious attraction for both companies to agree some form of joint venture. Britbet will have almost all of the on-course pool betting market, while the Betfred/Alizeti consortium has access to the off-course market through betting shops.

“Although it is reassuring that both Britbet and Alizeti are making the right noises about their eventual contributions to racing, the reality is that winning over a much larger part of the horseracing betting market is surely – dare I say – the highest priority. Better to have the benefits long-term than no benefits at all.

“Achieving a significant increase in UK pool betting is going to be difficult under any circumstances but much more difficult unless the main players agree to collaborate. We must urge them to do so.”

3 July 2018

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