Unity vital on levy and white paper stances

11 September 2023

The end of July saw racing’s final submission to DCMS of the evidence to support a change in the way that the levy is calculated, in addition to some wider requests regarding the gambling white paper.

As readers will be aware, the government has now published the various consultations addressing the gambling review, most notably around the issue of affordability  checks. The Racing Post and almost all other racing media has led strongly on the intrusive nature of the proposed checks, but just as importantly on the potential loss of significant income to our industry, which would be certain to impact prize-money levels. The media has also focused on the Gambling Commission’s role in this process
and whether it is fit for purpose. 

In addition, many owners have a bet on their horses when they run, and for some it is a fundamental part of the ownership experience. If that opportunity is removed, a significant number of owners may drift away from the sport or perhaps be driven to the unregulated non-levy generating betting markets. 

All the while, time ticks on and the ability of this government to get its legislation passed before the next election becomes increasingly difficult. The BHA’s co-ordination of the racing industry’s response to both the levy review and the gambling white paper must be applauded, but inevitably the outcome of these efforts will be what the group is judged on.

The announcement made by the Betting and Gaming Council, the group that co-ordinates the betting operators’ response to industry issues, was somewhat at odds with the BHA’s compiled data. We need to resolve that issue urgently or there is a real risk that what was once a traditional war of words between the bookmakers and the racing industry could re-emerge and scupper the joint approach to the white paper and levy review. 

On the latter subject, the saga of the review has been played out over almost three years. Initially as a response to the impact of Covid on our finances, there was an effort to bring forward the review, originally scheduled for 2024. It was felt at the time that there was a good chance of persuading government to come to the table a little earlier and initiate changes that would improve our income from the levy, but this early review ultimately failed to materialise. It is amazing to think now that this was before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and double-digit inflation in the UK. 

We now must wait to see how the levy saga finally plays out, but we must remain hopeful of a positive result. One thing is for sure – the government would prefer an  agreed industry position to the divisive debates of old. 

The strategy work led by the BHA through the industry’s Commercial Committee continues at a pace, with the 2024 fixture list nearing completion. As has been revealed, next year will see the introduction of a two-year trial of 160 ‘premier fixtures’ with increased prize-money, with many of those run during a protected two-hour window between 2pm and 4pm on Saturdays through the year. One further non-premier meeting will take place at the same time, with other meetings that would have
previously been run during that period starting earlier or later.

This new schedule should increase the focus on our most high-profile fixtures, with expected increased levy generation to re-invest in the whole sport, but it is, of course, vital that the rest of the c1,300 fixtures, where the majority of owners, trainers and horses will be operating, remain competitive and rewarding. 

There is a huge opportunity in the plans that are being pulled together and the industry leaders need to embrace the new concept to give it the greatest chance of   success. This should not be just racing under a different name but an entirely new version of the sport we love and an opportunity to break out of the funding model that struggles to finance our expectations.

As I write, the yearling sales season has got off to a very positive start in Deauville. It was most encouraging to see bidders from many jurisdictions who have been  relatively quiet for the last two or three years back in action and showing strong interest in French, English and Irish bloodstock. 

The continued desire for our bloodstock further illustrates that if we get the changes to our racing product right, the returns could fundamentally improve and make  Britain a true world leader on all fronts. We don’t have much time to exploit this window so we must be brave and fearless. 

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