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ABB: racing right will cause chaos

17 March 2015

THE racing right is unworkable, will cause division and chaos and will massively damage the interests of horseracing, representatives of the betting industry were told on Monday.

Association of British Bookmakers chairman Paul Darling and the trade body's interim chief executive Martin Cruddace were both highly critical of the proposed replacement for the levy system, whereby bookmakers would have to pay for the right to take bets on racing, when they spoke at the body's annual meeting in London.

The right, racing's favoured mechanism for replacing the levy, is the subject of a government consultation which closed last week and both the sport and betting industry are waiting to hear whether the subject will be mentioned in Wednesday's Budget.

Darling, speaking at his first ABB agm, said he was conscious of the mutual interests of the two sides and pledged the ABB would continue to co-operate fully in any discussion about the funding of racing.

However, he added: "May I express a strong, deeply held, personal view about the racing right, drawing on two years at the Tote but I hope importantly six years as a government-appointed and independent member of the Levy Board? "The racing right will simply not work for one reason or another, or more likely - bearing in mind the complexity - several together. It will cause division and it will cause chaos.

"Any attempt to introduce a racing right will in my view - and I have thought about it very carefully, I hope with an open mind - massively damage the funding and interests of British horseracing, in the short, medium and long terms."

That view was echoed by Cruddace, who has stepped in for Dirk Vennix as chief executive this year while the ABB searches for a permanent replacement.

He said: "As we looked into it we realised that in fact the racing right is unworkable. As a legacy, by those who are responsible for its implementation, it is no better than leaving a fake Rembrandt thought to be an original.

"How will it play out? I think there will probably be an announcement this week. I think it will be generic and I think at that point the fight really starts."

Levy reform was just one of a number of issues Cruddace said the industry faced, along with the likes of the threat to gaming machines, the rise in machine games duty, media rights negotiations and increased powers over betting shops in Scotland.

The ABB has commissioned a report into the industry by accountancy firm KPMG which Cruddace said made for "very worrying reading".

He added: "It is clear that not only is the industry facing its most politically challenging time but also its most economically challenging time.

"Simply based on this month's increase in machine gaming duty, the number of shops - out of approximately 9,000 - systematically loss-making reaches 1,465, with 6,000 jobs at risk. With the potential impact of above £50 stake regulation [on machines] that figure increases by a further 217.

"In the face of such challenges, one of my key objectives as CEO will be to make sure that the ABB is able to speak with one voice for the industry, representing the industry as a whole, on these matters, and get the message as to those challenges to the heart of government. I think that is incredibly important given the situation we are in."

Darling said it had become clear the sector was being used as a "political football" but the ABB would work closely with the next government "to make sure decisions affecting our members are made on the basis of the facts and evidence, and the impact they could have are set out clearly".

He defended the betting shop industry and said the claim that it targeted deprived areas was "as absurd as it is insulting".

He concluded: "My key message is absolutely clear - responsible gambling is at the heart of all we do, now and into the future, and we are ready to work with anyone, any organisation, regulator, government to build on that agenda.

"The corollary of that is the industry needs to be treated fairly and we must and we will fight for that."

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