An extension of the Levy to cover bets on foreign racing could be worth between £30m and £40m a year as the sport in Britain recovers from the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Nick Rust, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, said on Tuesday. “This is not a new idea but last year the need wasn’t as pressing for us,” Rust said. “The time is right now, because the sport’s facing a tough battle.”
The plan is among the more immediate options in the recovery plan for racing published by the BHA, in conjunction with the sport’s major stakeholders in the Horsemen’s Group (HG) and the Race Course Association (RCA). Other proposals seek to attract and retain new owners, including via syndicates and a new agreement between the HG and RCA to maximise prize money in 2021, though the first of the plan’s nine “goals” is undoubtedly the most pressing: “To secure a full resumption of race-day activity, with the best possible ownership and spectator experience, and the maximum attendance possible.”
Making money from bets on racing in other jurisdictions – such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, for instance, where bookmaking is banned – could be a controversial move, not least with bookmakers who could see £40m disappear from their balance sheets. Rust, though, argues that it would “level the playing field” between British racing and the industries in France, which has a pari-mutuel monopoly, and Ireland, which benefits from a statutory 1% levy on betting turnover.
“As well as Covid, we have Brexit coming up as well,” Rust said, “where government wants to ensure that we here in Britain aren’t going to be any worse off after Brexit. We do have competitor jurisdictions in France and Ireland where owners can relatively easily move their ownership interests where prize money is better. The playing field is not level.
“Ireland almost certainly makes more money from betting on British racing as a horse racing jurisdiction than it does from betting on its own product, purely because that tax exists on all sports betting. Because we race seven days a week, they make more money out of us than they do out of our own product.
“At the moment, if ITV Racing is covering Naas or Leopardstown, that’s great for people who are interested in the sport here but every bet from someone in London, Cardiff or Edinburgh attracts tax for the [British] government but no Levy for us. We think that could be worth £30m to £40m to us, and that could make a huge difference in maintaining our competitiveness and wellbeing of people working in our sport.”
Since the last Levy scheme realised just under £100m, and in a normal year contributes about £55m to prize money annually, Rust is hoping for as much as a 40% boost to total Levy income and perhaps an extra £22m for prize money. He also hopes that bookmakers will take a long-term view when the sport pushes for secondary legislation in parliament to secure the extension.
In terms of a return of spectators to the racecourse, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is expected to announce a series of pilots – from 1 October – with limited crowds in several sports, including racing, on Wednesday.
“At the moment we’ve got a fixture list in place from September to December with more than three-quarters of races back at pre-Covid levels,” Rust said. “How many industries would like to be in that position? No one’s complacent, but it’s bought us some time to flesh out the detail of our plans.
“The major tenet of the plan is to get crowds back, hopefully from 1 October, albeit the expectation is that those will be limited to 5,000 at that stage. But the vast majority of our race days would fall within that number, and even for the big days, it would provide an atmosphere and make it feel much more like our experience should be.”
Wednesday’s tips, by Greg Wood
The price is everything in betting, so while it’s encouraging to find that Quanah (3.30) is now a 9-2 shot for the sprint handicap at Musselburgh this afternoon, in another respect he does not make nearly as much appeal as he did at 14-1 when the book opened yesterday.
Four non-runners, bringing the field down to 10, are part of the reason for the cut in his odds, but none of them were shorter than 9-1 and there is clearly some confidence behind Liam Bailey’s gelding. He is a winner twice already since the resumption of racing in June, ran well off today’s mark of 68 at Hamilton last time and has plenty of form with cut in the ground including a win over track and trip last October.
Peerless Percy (4.05) returned from 10 months off to finish third on his handicap debut at Hamilton on 1 August and has far more scope for improvement than his rivals racing off the same mark today.
Amazing Alba (3.00) also has an obvious chance on the same card, while Ocean Wind (4.30) is an interesting runner in the maiden at Lingfield.
Roger Teal’s colt finished sixth in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March and made a promising start on the Flat when second over today’s course and distance. John Locke sets a decent standard and is currently odds-on, but today’s trip is a slight unknown and he does not have much, if anything, in hand on form so far.