The racing industry’s concerns over the impact of affordability checks on the sport’s finances have been re-raised by a group of eight stakeholders, who have written to the government.
Affordability checks proved to be one of the most contentious issues of the two year Gambling Act review. Advocates argued that measures were essential were customer protection, whilst critics – with many from racing – argued such measures would infringe individual privacy and impact sports finances.
Ultimately, the government’s White Paper on the review would propose ‘finance risk checks’, setting out thresholds as to when these should be implemented. Finance risk checks had previously been outlined by former Gambling Minister Paul Scully as the likely answer to affordability checks in the review.
In the letter to Lucy Frazer, CMS Secretary, Representatives from the Arena Racing Company (ARC), the Jockey Club, the Racecourse Association (RCA) and Racehorse Owners Association (ROA), as well as representative bodies of trainers, breeders, jockeys and stable staff, reiterated long-held viewpoints on the issue.
“We are calling for the government to pause the proposed affordability measures,” said Martin Cruddace, Chief Executive of Arena Racing Company. “The debate is crying out for objective research, which the new statutory levy can help fund. From all the research by pressure groups and trade organisations I have seen, objectivity is a clear stranger.
“There is overwhelming consensus across the industry, as demonstrated in this letter, to the Government – that further measures will decimate a sport that millions are passionate about, and ultimately cost the industry over £250m. That will threaten the future of multiple racecourses across the UK and many thousands of jobs.”
Shortly after the review first began back in December 2020, concerns were quickly raised among racing stakeholders. This was chiefly due to the perceived impact affordability checks could have bookmaker finances and, in turn, racing finances.
Horse racing relies heavily on the racing levy paid from bookmakers revenues – the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) trade body notably stated this year that the industry continues to ‘bankroll’ racing – and so any dips in operator income will be parallel in racing.
In the letter to Frazer, stakeholders repeated these concerns. Cruddace highlighted the ‘symbiotic relationship’ with betting, adding that ‘resulting damage’ to the industry – which the letter noted employs 80,000 people and contributes £4bn to the economy annually – is ‘extremely alarming’.
The assembled bodies believe that affordability measures could see the sport lose £250m over five years, although this is not as much as some feared – back in 2020, MP Lawrence Robertson had claimed that a loss of up to £350m a year could be a potential impact.
In Cruddace’s latest estimations, over £1bn of online betting turnover on British racing will have been lost since 2021’ as a result of affordability checks, which has led to the number of active race horses falling to ‘under 15,000’.
“We support the motivations of the Government to evolve how we protect customers in the digital age,” he continued. “However, our industry risks becoming collateral damage with measures that have no impact in reducing gambling-related harm, promoted by those with an ideological agenda, not an evidenced-based one.
“This has and will deeply cut the primary revenue stream for our industry. There are other measures the Government could take that will have a more targeted impact; the current proposals will simply not deliver the government’s ambition.”
Lastly, Cruddace took umbrage with the government’s claim that only 3% of bookmaker accounts will be affected by finance risk checks. In the letter, he wrote: “The true percentage of current active accounts affected, which includes a higher percentage of horseracing accounts due to those accounts having a greater lifetime span, is considerably higher.”
He added ‘notwithstanding that we have had affordability measures in place for two years now, these measures have had no impact on any of the nine current indices to measure gambling-related harm, but have had a huge knock-on effect on our industry’.
It should be noted, however, that horse racing has been struggling for some time before the Gambling Act review, with the BGC recently noting that football overtook the sport as the most popular betting market in 2018.
These hurdles were further exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although racing was not the only sport to be impacted by the lockdowns and closure of venues, its attendances have continued to struggle since.
In turn, this has made the racing sector even more reliant on the betting industry, and so stakeholders are understandably concerned about the impact regulatory changes may have on bookmaker’s revenues – and therefore, their own.