Levy plans receive European approval
BHA chief executive Nick Rust last week spoke of “an exciting future” for both the sport and the betting industry after the European Commission finally endorsed the government’s reforms of the levy system as in line with state-aid rules.
The news means one of the final hurdles for implementation of the changes to the levy system has been passed, although it must still be signed into law by sports minister Tracey Crouch, which may not happen until early this week.
Crouch said on Friday: “Today marks the final hurdle of clearance to introduce our reforms to the Horserace Betting Levy that will happen next week. The move will secure the future of horseracing in Britain and help sustain and develop the sport.”
Under the reformed system, betting operators who had previously fallen outside of the levy net because they were based offshore must now contribute to British racing’s funding from betting on the sport.
Operators must pay ten per cent of gross profits on betting on British racing above a £500,000 threshold.
The news will delight racing’s leadership, who believe the sport has been missing out on income estimated at between £30-40 million per year because of the offshore loophole.
Rust said: “With the final, outstanding approval now secured from the European Commission, today marks one of the last few steps in the process of securing a fair return from all betting on our sport.”
The Authorised Betting Partners (ABP) scheme will cease operation from the commencement date of the new levy, as all betting operators will be paying on a statutory basis.
Rust added: “We look forward to working closely with bookmakers to build an exciting future for both our industries.
“The new levy has the potential to put an end to unnecessary divisions between racing and betting as it creates a level playing field, removes the need for annual negotiations on the rate and provides long-term certainty for both parties.”
Machines review set to be delayed
Bookmakers and campaigners alike are going to have to wait for the results of the government’s review of gaming machines following the decision to call a general election for June 8.
The government had said it would announce news of its review – which also includes gambling advertising and social responsibility measures – in the spring, but that looks set to be pushed back until the autumn now.
That would mean any changes emanating from the review might not come into force until the autumn of 2018 rather than next spring.
The government could not confirm a date for the announcement last week.
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “The government is currently undertaking a review of stakes and prizes of gambling machines and their locations, which includes FOBTs [Fixed Odds Betting Terminals].
“It is important that gambling regulations strike the right balance between allowing the industry to contribute to the economy and enable people to bet responsibly while ensuring consumers and communities are protected. The review will be published in due course.”
There had been widespread speculation that the review would result in the reduction of stakes on ‘B2’ machines with betting shop operators warning cuts from the current £100 to the £2 level demanded by campaigners would lead to widespread shop closures and job losses, as well as damage to horse and greyhound racing’s economic models.
Analyst Gavin Kelleher of Goodbody said: “On one hand a delay is a short-term positive as any potential profit impact to operators is delayed by what looks like at least six months.
“It also provides operators with more time to mitigate as much of their machines away from high-staking B2 content, along with positioning as much of their machine player base towards registered play, as this could be a likely recommendation.
“However, the potential for a significant maximum stake reduction on B2 gaming machines remains an overhang on retail bookmakers in the UK.”
William Hill’s Sharpe to retire
Graham Sharpe, who as one of the most accomplished public relations operators in his field made betting front page news, is leaving William Hill after 45 years with the bookmaker.
Sharpe, 66, who patented the area of novelty and political betting and co-founded the prestigious William Hill Sportsbook of the Year, is reluctantly giving up his role as media relations director with the company he joined as a betting shop boardman in March 1972.
He will leave this week having agreed redundancy terms with Hills, which is to operate with a smaller publicity team following last month’s departure of Jon Ivan-Duke as public relations manager for horseracing.
“In the 45 years and one month I’ve worked for this company I’ve never asked to leave,” he said.
“I’d have liked to have seen the William Hill Sportsbook of the Year through to the 30th edition in November next year, which would coincide with my 68th birthday and was in the back of my mind as an ideal time to quit.
“Then I was told I was at risk of redundancy and we went through a process. I’ve been offered the opportunity to remain associated with the William Hill Sportsbook of the Year, which I have accepted.”
Former Arena boss Parr dies
Graham Parr, who helped found Arena Leisure and was the racecourse group’s first chief executive, died last week at the age of 67.
Preston-born Parr began his career at holiday camp company Pontins where he began a long-time association with businessman and racehorse owner Trevor Hemmings.
Parr teamed up with Hemmings again at Arena Leisure in 1997. By the time Parr stepped down in 2001 the company owned six racecourses – Folkestone, Lingfield, Southwell, Wolverhampton, Windsor and Worcester – and would form the foundation for Arena Racing Company as well as being a shareholder in At The Races.
He remained as a non-executive director of Arena until 2004.
Parr’s involvement in the fields of racing and gambling also included being chairman of greyhound stadium operator Gaming International and mobile gambling firm Probability.
He also joined the board of Timeweave, which jointly owns betting shop channel TurfTV with racecourses allied to ATR’s rival broadcaster Racing UK.
Ian Penrose, who was finance director at Arena Leisure before succeeding Parr as chief executive, said of him. “He was a larger than life character and at his best he was inspirational.”
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