Funding will falter without racing and betting deal
I will start this month with a welcome to our newly elected ROA Board members Dr Jim Walker and Steven Applebee, and to Gay Kelleway who has been re-elected to a second term. All three bring a great breadth of experience from within and outside the industry and we look forward to their input over the next three years. Please remember that the Board members are representing your views, so do not hesitate to contact them, or the ROA team, if you have anything you wish to raise.
I would also like to congratulate all of the winners at December’s ROA Horseracing Awards. You will read plenty more about that event in the pages of this publication, but I thought it was an excellent evening reflecting on some of the special moments of 2023.
The seemingly never-ending saga of levy reform is still not resolved. Pressure is increasing from government on the Betting & Gaming Council to put a realistic offer to racing that can be signed off before the April 2024 deadline. Over the last few months there have been times when a deal looked imminent but at the time of writing we still have no resolution. However, the Autumn statement delivered by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt did have a change to the sports betting tax rate, increasing it from 15% to 21%, which will probably squeeze bookmaker revenues and have an impact on the negotiations. It really is incumbent on all parties to get the levy reform signed off within the set timeframe and allow much needed extra funding into the sport.
Clouding that debate is the consultation and subsequent discussion on affordability checks, with the bookmakers continuing to see turnover dropping year on year by double digit amounts. There are several factors at play but self-imposed checks by bookmakers worried about the Gambling Commission issuing further fines have no doubt contributed to the decline, as have reduced marketing offers to punters. So far, the increased betting margins have meant that levy income has remained relatively healthy, but that situation is not sustainable in the longer term. With inflation falling slightly and the economy showing greater resilience than previously forecast, there is hope for 2024 and beyond. If we can get a sensible resolution to the affordability checks consultation and an agreement on levy reform, 2024 will begin to look much brighter.
Speaking of the next 12 months, we are now into the new-look fixture list under a two-year trial, with the accompanying product changes, broadcast innovations and other promotion and marketing initiatives to be rolled out through the year. The KPIs against which the trial should be judged were published by the BHA a few weeks ago and I remain hopeful that the changes can be given time to bed in before participants jump to hasty conclusions. The data must be examined properly and with the transparency that the new governance structure has given the industry, the insights resulting from that data will inform the conclusions on the various elements of the trial.
This year is also key for the Racing Digital project, a joint venture created by the BHA and Weatherbys to transform and serve the sport we love by creating a next generation digital platform for managing horseracing, which will ultimately replace the existing Racing Admin system that most of you will be familiar with. Racing Digital’s technology platform will respond much faster to change, using data in a more intelligent way and putting participants at the heart of everything.
Racing Digital represents a huge opportunity for the sport to harness the power of technology. When it launches later in 2024, the industry will have spent a significant sum on the new platform for the administration of British racing. We all know that on most large IT projects there are overruns both in time and spend, but the industry really needs a system that works and delivers the efficiencies that were promised at the outset of the project. Let us hope that this transformational piece of work delivers for us all in 2024 and beyond.
As always, there is plenty going on in horseracing, but let’s hope that 2024 is a positive year for the industry, that all of you experience some memorable moments with your horses, and that we can spend much more of our time talking about and celebrating this wonderful sport and a little less time on racing politics.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful New Year.