The prospect of a £60m hit to horse racing’s already struggling finances is conjured up by a template letter to MPs now being distributed within the sport, complaining about the possible impact of affordability checks on gamblers and calling on law-makers to pressure the Gambling Commission into a rethink. The letter’s author is not known but it was evidently drafted after agreement among the sport’s most senior power-brokers that some pushback was necessary.
The GC is consulting on possible changes to its regulations in the area and has extended the deadline for feedback until 9 February, having experienced “high engagement” since the consultation began in November (pdf). It has already indicated likely parameters for triggering an affordability check on a customer, saying that a monthly loss of £2,000 would be unrealistically high while £100 would probably be the “lowest possible threshold”.
The template letter, seen by The Guardian, states: “I am reliably informed that the proposals put forward by the Gambling Commission could result in more than £60m in direct losses to the British racing industry from reduced Horserace Betting Levy and media rights income. This would be amplified many times over through the wider rural economy and potentially lead to racecourses closing.
“The Gambling Commission’s proposed action would be disproportionate to the small number of people who suffer harm from betting on racing, as well as being a very significant invasion on personal liberty in the free society in which we live. At a time when racing and the British economy are trying to recover from Covid-19, a rushed intervention like this would also significantly set back recovery.
“Naturally, I have grave concerns about this and would welcome your support in calling for the Gambling Commission to rethink introducing this measure, ensure it is evidence-based and, at the very least, ensure that the decision-making process aligns with the government’s recently launched review of the Gambling Act.”
The letter suggests that betting on racing, being “skill-based”, should be treated differently from the casino-style gambling readily available online, on the grounds that it is less likely to trigger problem gambling. It claims that British racing’s fixture list and calendar has been “designed to provide a fair, safe and compelling betting product that has both stood the test of time and evolved with society”.
There is no explanation on how the figure of £60m was arrived at, though it appears to be based on the assumption of a £100 threshold for affordability checks. The British Horseracing Authority declined to comment. It is believed officials are still trying to assess the potential impact, depending on the threshold that may be adopted.
Britain’s 59 racecourses are expected to be among those forwarding the letter to their MPs. David Armstrong, the chief executive of the Racecourse Association, said: “We’ve done this on a few other issues, including at some points during the Covid crisis, where we do ask our MPs to help us, MPs with racecourses or training yards in their constituencies, we often ask them for help in this way.”
A spokesman for the Gambling Commission said action was necessary because of the failings of some online betting firms. “Whilst some operators have continued to improve their customer interaction processes, our evidence shows that many online operators are not setting thresholds for action at appropriate levels. They are not taking the appropriate action or acting quickly enough when they do identify risks of potential harm.
“We are clear on the need for gambling companies to take further action and our consultation proposes that the Commission sets firm requirements to ensure consistent standards. But we want to have an open discussion with the gambling industry, consumers, people with lived experience and other stakeholders, to ensure we strike the right balance between allowing consumer freedom and ensuring that there are protections in place to prevent gambling harm.”
Racing faces £60m hit from gambling reforms, letter to MPs claims The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Guardian.