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Dirk Vennix, chief executive Association of British Bookmakers

18 January 2012

Dirk Vennix, chief executive Association of British Bookmakers

Age 49 (22 March is his big one!)

How long have you been in this role, and what is your background?

Ten months. I had a long background in communications and public
affairs, in particular in dealing with issues management - including
public health, customer service and education. A common thread was the
ability to counter myths and unsubstantiated views effectively with
fact based evidence. Political campaigning was the main focus of my
career over the last five years – increasing and developing contacts
with ministers, MPs, peers and Government officials. I was also always
briefing various departments on my organisation’s positions on UK and
European legislation.

Your family is Dutch?

Yes, my parents were from Holland; my father worked for the UN so we
travelled a lot when I was young, often attending English ‘ex-pat’
schools in various countries. I’m a committed Anglophile and have
lived here 18 years. My wife Cathy is Irish.

Who are your team?

It’s lean and mean, made up by Graham McLennan, John Johnson, Cath
White (office manager) and last week James Barrow joined us from
parliament as the new Public Affairs Manager. He had been political
adviser to Chishti Rehman MP

Are you looking forward to ICE?

Yes, with great enthusiasm. It will be my first time and have heard
from various sources that it is an exciting ‘must attend’ event.

How do you see the betting business mix evolving?

We are confident that LBOs will be able to retain market share – but
this is dependent on the government allowing conditions that permit
our members to compete and prosper. Many of our smaller shops pay a
huge amount more in tax compared to what they retain in profit – this
is unsustainable in the long term. Our members are high volume, low
margin businesses. The tax burden needs to be lessened – starting with
a fair and tax neutral rate of Machine Gaming Duty in the 2012 budget.

Horseracing is a declining part of our product – but we want this to
change. To do this racing needs to reinvigorate itself through a more
exciting fixture list which our customers want – we believe our
proposals for the Levy would help this to happen. We believe racing is
now on the same page: we both want a fair, enforceable and mutually
beneficial long-term deal. Discussions continue with the Minister and
racing.

Any legislative risks the industry faces?

We’re engaged on a quite a few fronts at the moment including the rate
of Machine Gaming Duty. In 2010 we lost more than 100 shops, mainly
smaller ones, and thousands of jobs. A punitive rate of MGD could lead
to less investment, further shop closures and job losses.

Is there legitimate concern on shop proliferation?

Not at all. Shop numbers are not proliferating – they have remained
stable at about 8,500 for the past decade. This is down from 15,000 at
the end of the 1960s

There are a little more clustering of bookmakers on some high streets
in a handful of London boroughs but this is down to i) the fact they
are safe – hence licenses are approved  ii) cheaper rents; iii) more
vacant properties on the high street  iv) consumer demand  v) healthy
competition.

You got an extraordinarily high profile article into The Sun last
month, emphasizing the modern day fun of betting shops. How did that
come about?

The Sun offered a right to reply to some over-the-top criticism from
Mary Portas. It was good of them. Most ordinary people see her as
entirely out of touch. I invited her to visit a betting shop on the
high street in the summer. I still haven’t had a reply.


What about offshore operations . . . any taxation vibes that might
lead to repatriation?

I can’t speak on behalf of online gambling operators but in general
terms my view is that corporate bookmakers are British businesses –
they only run their online and their telephone operations overseas
because combined taxes in this country are unsustainable and
uncompetitive.

How do you relax?

Spending quality time with family and friends. I’m an Arsenal season
ticket-holder and was at the Emirates for Thierry Henry’s return
against Leeds, his was an unbelievable goal - we all went bananas!

What’s your favourite racecourse?

Aintree – because of the history and the excitement of betting on the
John Smith’s Grand National. I’ve also enjoying going to the greyhound
racing at Romford.

What do you think of Racing Post Greyhound TV?

An excellent initiative giving a huge boost to greyhound racing.

Any lessons from the recent jockey warnings-off and other sport
corruption cases?

As the Sports Minister and the IOC have also made clear recently, the
vast majority of sports corruption scandals are linked to illegal
betting in the Far East. This is because the bookmakers we represent
have robust processes in place to detect suspicious betting patterns.
The betting industry in the UK monitors them for possible illegal
activity on a daily basis

What has been your greatest achievement?

Completing ten marathons, including London, Berlin and New York

What’s your best sporting moment?

Van Basten’s goal against USSR in the European Championship final in
1988. The audacity, skill and significance of this moment were out of
this world.

A horse to follow?

Camelot.

A jockey to follow?

Joseph O’Brien: good family legacy – and it was a glorious Breeders
Cup win on St Nicholas Abbey

Best lesson?

Always keep your finger on the pulse – know what your members need –
and serve your members very well.

Your hero?

Dennis Bergkamp.  I also admire a compatriot Ben Verwaayen, a former
chief exec of BT, I was hugely impressed by his personal commitment to
customer relations, for instance personally answering emails within
two hours. That’s REALLY keeping your finger on the pulse.

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