I think I must have drunk more coffee last week than at any stage since I was writing my M Phil thesis. It’s probably safe to say that the consumption this time round accompanied rather more relevant learnings. Then, I was ploughing through volumes of Charles de Gaulle’s speeches in order to write about his attitude to the Cold War; this time, I was blessed with some very useful advice from many wise people in relation to my fledgling business. I am grateful to all of you who have given me so much time.
The upshot has been that I have had little time to muse, but almost ten days ago I filed away an article by Jim McGrath in the Daily Telegraph which I thought was fascinating in the context of racing’s line about the levy.
I had lunch last Monday with a key figure in racing, who asked me what I would be recommending to racing were I not conflicted and were able to work for them. I said that I would start by telling them to decide where they want money from, and stick to it: professional punters, all layers, layers over a threshold, traders, profitable punters irrespective of size, profitable punters over a threshold, etc. Racing fluctuates from one to the next to the next, depending on what suits at the time.
In that context, this Harry Findlay article is interesting. By his own admission, Findlay lost £2.5million betting on racing, and has made £11.5 betting on other sports. I wonder how the BHA would categorise him if they were asked.
Would they say that he was an old-fashioned punter, and wasn’t one of the people that they think should be paying levy? He’s clearly a professional punter, again by his own admission. But would the BHA argue that a professional punter is not ‘in business‘, even though the word ‘professional’ is defined in my dictionary as “engaged in a specific occupation or activity for money or as a means of earning a living, rather than as a pastime”. Are you only liable for levy if you bet in a specific way, and risking large sums to win large sums doesn’t count? Harry Findlay may not be a layer, of course; except that it was only last month that the BHA got their knickers in a twist about him laying his own horse, so on second thoughts maybe he is.
Maybe the defence would be that he isn’t a trader? Who knows? But perhaps more important than wondering how the BHA would classify him today as they make their case for who should be caught by their net and who shouldn’t, is wondering how they would define him (indeed, how will they define him next year, should his luck turn) if the numbers in the article were reversed? Had he won £11.5m on racing, and lost £2.5m on sport, would that £11.5m have been deemed by the BHA to be leviable, since it would have been, unquestionably, made from racing?
Perhaps they will argue that the numbers will not be reversed, so it is an academic question not worthy of an answer. But that raises an interesting question in turn: what will be the impact of this news on aspiring punters in terms of their likelihood to bet on the horses rather than on the footie?
Racing has been losing market share for years, while the powers that be have insisted on focusing instead on the irrelevance of falling margin. But as Harry told At the Races yesterday, punters have to have a reasonable belief that they will win for them to take part in the first place. Contrast that with the idea proposed to me by racing CEOs recently that the trouble with Betfair’s model is that it allows people to win.
It seems to me that this article raises questions for horseracing which are so difficult to answer in a positive manner that I would imagine the reaction in High Holborn has been to ignore the article completely, in the hope that no-one will ask them.
Perhaps I’m wrong, and they have their replies at the ready. Nic?