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The Ministry of Silly Walks

I’ve had a trememously busy week, so I haven’t had time to get involved in the debate going on in connection with my last post. On reflection, that may be a good thing, because I was briefly rather confused by it. When David Zeffman told me that “we are not asking the government to intervene”, I realised that I must have been getting his client confused with another BHA which has spent the last few years banging on the doors of DCMS, Treasury and the Gambling Commission, to “do something” about exchanges. Sorry David – my mistake!

I also haven’t had the chance to comment on the adverts that ran in the Racing Post last week, based on the Monty Python Romans sketch, entitled “what has Betfair ever done for racing”.

Paul Struthers, the BHA spokesman, responded to them thus:

“The adverts weren’t unexpected but racing is highlighting the facts through the levy process. The adverts merely reiterate that Betfair has diverted money that should have been going to the levy in favour of sponsorship, which is a commercial activity. As Betfair themselves highlighted in a press release in February this year, there is a difference between product fees, which is essentially what the levy is, and the commercial activity of sponsorship and PR, which is what their ‘grass roots investment’ effectively is. The irony of using a cartoon when the future of racing is no laughing matter, would not, I imagine, have been lost on anyone.”

I must say that this one confused me as well.

Betfair is a levy payer, at 10% of its profits. That the BHA is arguing that its customers should also pay levy is a side-issue to this simple fact. Indeed, the BHA has itself said in the past, on its more conciliatory days, that its gripe is not with Betfair’s levy payments, but with the fact that Betfair’s customers, it feels, should be paying levy too. So Betfair running adverts that say what else it has put into racing are surely not about what it has put in instead of paying levy, but as well as paying levy. When Betfair sought, earlier this year, to characterise money that was coming from offshore punters as Levy, the BHA told them in no uncertain terms that it was not Levy at all. I was involved then, and blogged about it at the time, suggesting that the BHA were ill-advised to insist it wasn’t Levy. To stress the point for the sake of clarity: this was money from international punters, betting on British racing; and it was being offered, as Levy, to the British racing industry which was losing money offshore from British punters who were betting on its product. And the BHA said no, sod off.

So Paul’s statement would seem to me to be bizarre on so many levels, not least of which is that it serves to highlight the idiocy of the BHA’s own actions eight months ago. That aside, the first two sentences are both completely false; most of the third, starting “Betfair themselves highlighted” is absolutely true, and no less so for the fact that the adverts were run. And the final one, about irony, looks like a line designed to make a good soundbite, but in the process misses the point. The humour is not in the future of racing: it is, sadly, in the clowns that are running it.

The real irony, though, is that this statement was made in the same week that Cheltenham racecourse is defending the selection of Stan James as a sponsor.

People will argue the logic of Edward Gillespie’s defence of the deal: 

“I have detected slightly half hearted applause, and even a suggestion that doing business with Stan James, as with other bookmakers taking online activities offshore, is questionable for Jockey Club racecourses. However the target for ‘Racing United’ – a fair levy – is not about the betting companies that are taking advantage of what they describe as loopholes, but the government for allowing such loopholes”.

But it is rather harder to defend Stan James from the idea that their sponsorship is funded by money which, were they onshore, might be being paid in statutory levy, since it is money from British punters betting on British horseracing.

Indeed, were Paul Struthers to have put out a public statement in response to Cheltenham’s sponsorship announcement that, “The sponsorship merely reiterates that Stan James has diverted money that should have been going to the levy in favour of sponsorship, which is a commercial activity,” he would have been 100% correct.

What a shame – indeed, Paul, an irony probably not lost on anyone – that he’d already used the line on something for which it was the opposite.

Posted in Betfair, Betting industry, Regulation.

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3 Responses

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  1. Trigger Happy says

    There’s more genius from a JC/BHA type in this month’s thoroughbred owner & breeder if you havent seen it. Apparently a 5p fee on all bets is the way forward and will generate £60mil off Betfair alone. This only works out at £2 a month to each of Betfair’s 2 and a half million users (all of whom bet on racing obviously).

  2. Trigger Happy says

    Quite an unmissable article it is written by Alastair Stewart, former senior judge at the JC and BHA. Some former independent bookmakers have switched to BF and are taking “1,000 bets an hour”… a 5p fee will cost them but less than running a shop!!!!

  3. markg says

    Bet those independent bookmakers are making a killing laying at a 98% book whilst paying commission.

    Oh, wait.

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