Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Hand the Tote to the BHB

Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Hand the Tote to the BHB

Article excerpt

THREE men are crucial to the future of racing's finances. As chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board, Rob Hughes is responsible for collecting an agreed levy from the independent bookmakers and the Tote (the state-sponsored pool betting organisation) and applying it to the benefit of racing. As chairman of the British Horseracing Board, Peter Savill is responsible for making racing's case for how much it needs. (He says another 80 million through a bigger percentage of betting revenue.) And, as chairman of the Tote, Peter Jones is responsible for the most dependable part of racing's income, since any part of the Tote's profits which is not ploughed back into new technology and expansion goes directly to racing, a benefit now worth 12 million a year.

All is at present in flux, since the current five-year agreement between the racing industry and the bookies over how much they should contribute to the sport is about to expire. It is supposed to be settled by amicable negotiation. But no wise man would sit at spitting distance between Savill and the bookies. Rob Hughes is likely to have to act at the first court of appeal and, if he fails, resolution will pass to a very cross Home Secretary.

Meanwhile the government has brought further uncertainty by its intention of privatising the Tote (which technically it would have to nationalise first), and the enterprising bookmaker Victor Chandler has gone offshore to Gibraltar where he can take bets from British punters without charging them the 9 per cent deduction they would face in betting shops here to cover general betting duty of 6.75 per cent and the 1.37 per cent levy payments (which he is maintaining on a voluntary basis). At least one of the big three bookmaking chains (Hill, Ladbroke, Coral) is threatening to follow.

All of that made Peter Jones racing's man of the moment when he addressed the Tote AGM this week. Before he did so he made plain to me where he wanted to see the Tote in future. He does not want to see it sold off to a commercial enterprise. But nor does he want to see it pass to the hands of the BHB and its combative chairman who, without consulting him, had asked the government to hand it over to them, for nothing: `My preference is that it goes to a racing trust which enables the Tote to continue to be commercially driven in an atmosphere free of politics.

`The BHB is not a commercial organisation. At a corporate level they've got no experience of running an organisation like the Tote. At a personal level very few of the directors have ever had anything to do with anything of the size of the Tote.'

To maximise its income and racing's benefit the Tote has to have commercial partnerships with the big bookmaking chains to help market its products, notably exotic combination bets like the new Scoop6. `The BHB is naturally always going to have different objectives to the bookmakers'. Racing politics has sometimes been aggressive, sometimes as aggressive as it is today. The BHB has to pursue its primary objective of trying to maximise the levy, and in doing that would often be at odds with the bookmakers.'

But do we need yet another racing body? Didn't a Commons select committee once suggest that the BHB was the Tote's natural home? …

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