Arena pulls off game changer in media rights battle
Arena Racing Company last week raised the stakes in the battle over of betting shop media rights with the shock news it had swooped to buy Newcastle and Sunderland greyhound stadiums from bookmakers William Hill.
The racecourse group snatched the two greyhound tracks from under the noses of Sports Information Services (SIS), who had agreed a deal with William Hill in February but had not completed it.
It is understood Hills lost patience as the two sides could not agree terms and agreement with Arc was reached in a fortnight. The price has been estimated at around £10 million, although the precise figure has not been revealed.
Arc has also joined Greyhound Media Group (GMG), which will now represent the media rights of 12 greyhound tracks and close to 70 per cent of greyhound fixtures shown in betting shops through the Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Service (Bags).
The moves are a game changer in the media rights merry-go-round involving the UK’s betting-shop market and are set to strengthen new betting-shop channel The Racing Partnership (TRP), in which Arc is the driving force.
SIS has the rights to distribute Bags content until the end of this year but it would appear likely that TRP will take over those rights from the start of 2018.
TRP has its own problems, with Betfred and Ladbrokes-Coral yet to sign up to the service, which is costing Arc millions of pounds in media-rights income, although this deal will put pressure on those firms to come to an agreement from the new year.
At that point TRP will have pictures from 22 racecourses and nearly 70 per cent of greyhound fixtures.
Arc said it would take over the operational running of both greyhound stadiums and responsibility for the 160 employees across the two sites.
Chief executive Martin Cruddace said: “We are really delighted to have moved at pace to acquire the tracks and join our new partners at GMG as part of a long-term deal.
“We very much look forward to working with the great teams at both stadiums and developing our relationship with the greyhound industry.”
Newcastle, where Arc also owns the racecourse, and Sunderland stage 520 greyhound racing fixtures a year, of which 384 are part of the Bags schedule.
SIS, in which William Hill has a 19.5 per cent stake, has yet to comment but the bookmakers said they anticipated the deal would be completed in weeks.
Group communications director Ciaran O’Brien said: “William Hill can confirm we have reached initial agreement with Arena Racing Company for the sale of Newcastle and Sunderland greyhound stadia.
“We anticipate the agreement will complete in the coming weeks following the appropriate competition and regulatory approvals.”
Gaming machine losses increase again
It is hard to keep gaming machines out of the news and the issue came to the fore again when the Gambling Commission released its latest statistics.
The amount of money lost on machines increased to a high of £1.8 billion in the year to September 2016, according to the regulator’s figures.
The share of betting shop gross gambling yield (GGY) – the amount kept by operators after winnings have been paid out – provided by gaming machines was 56 per cent compared to traditional over-the-counter betting.
However, the Association of British Bookmakers said the growth was reflected in the wider industry and general economy.
A spokesman said: “The increase in revenue from gaming machines in betting shops of three per cent is in line with the average growth in revenue across the whole of the gambling industry [three per cent] and growth in the economy as a whole.
“To put the growth in gaming machines revenue in context, the Gambling Commission’s figures show a 20 per cent increase in revenue in casinos, a seven per cent increase in lotteries [other than the National lottery] and a five per cent increase in online revenue.”
Gaming machines, also known as fixed-odds betting terminals or FOBTs, are the subject of a government review announced last autumn, the results of which have been delayed by the general election campaign. Both the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos have called for the stakes on machines to be cut to £2 from the current maximum of £100.
The latest total gross gambling yield (GGY) of the British gambling sector was £13.8bn, up from £13.4bn in the year to March 2016.
Total betting shop numbers fell again to 8,788, meaning they have fallen by one per cent for each of the last three periods covered by the commission’s statistics.
Strong beginning to 2017 for GVC
Kenny Alexander, the chief executive of online gambling operator GVC Holdings, hailed a strong start to the year as the company issued a trading statement for the first quarter of 2017 last week.
The owner of the Sportingbet and Bwin brands said group daily net gaming revenue (NGR) was up 13 per cent compared to 2016, while there was strong growth with sports NGR up 12 per cent.
Alexander said: “I’m delighted at the performance of the group, with the positive momentum continuing in 2017.
“Comparatives will get more challenging as we move through the rest of the year, particularly in the absence of a major football tournament this summer.
“However, I’m very confident that the combination of continued enhancements to the customer offering combined with a return to more normalised marketing spend will deliver another year of strong progress at GVC.”
Sportech’s positive start
Sportech has made a “positive start” to 2017 and is trading in line with management expectations, according to a trading statement issued by the company before its annual general meeting last week.
The Merseyside-based operator is in the process of selling its Football Pools business and said the transaction was subject to the buyer OpCapita receiving licensing from the Gambling Commission.
“We anticipate the Gambling Commission decision in the next few weeks, which would enable the transaction to complete prior to the end of June,” the company said.
Chairman Roger Withers stepped down at the AGM, to be replaced by Richard McGuire.
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