The British Horseracing Board (BHB) will be delighted by the announcement last week that the government plans to introduce stricter licensing requirements which could see overseas-based gambling firms contributing towards the horseracing betting Levy.
The sports minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, said on Friday that he intends to introduce measures that will see the Gambling Commission issue individual licences to online firms, with the licence fee going towards the cost of regulation, the treatment of gambling addictions – and in some cases contributing to the horseracing betting Levy.
Online gambling firms active in the U.K. will be required to share information about suspicious betting patterns with the industry’s governing bodies under the new rules, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said in a statement in London today. They also will be pressed to contribute to a fund aimed at helping people with gambling problems.
Horseracing, which is enduring one of the most miserable winters in living memory due to the postponement of countless races due to the Big Freeze, is heavily reliant on money coming into the sport’s Levy, from which it currently receives approximately £100m a year from bookmakers.
However, with the likes of William Hill and Ladbrokes moving operations to Gibraltar and other operators upping sticks to ‘white-listed’ UK jurisdictions such as the Isle of Man, Alderney, Malta and Antigua, the BHB has been driving its Chevy to the Levy but the Levy’s been dry – or at least springing a leak. It is no exaggeration to say that a mandatory payment towards the horseracing Levy may save the sport from financial ruin.
But of course the government is not making these changes for their love of racing. And neither are they doing it, as they claim, to help keep a tighter control on sports betting scandals which have become more frequent over recent years.
“The new system outlined today will ensure that all businesses offering online gambling to our consumers adhere to our rules — not someone else’s,” claimed Sutcliffe in a statement to Parliament. “This is also about making sure overseas firms contribute their fair share towards regulatory costs and vital services like problem gambling treatment.”
The real reason they are doing it is because they have realised what an almighty ricket Gordon Brown made as Chancellor, when he imposed a tax rate for internet gambling firms of 15% of gross profits – which prompted Hills, Ladbrokes, SportingBet and others to leave these shores in the first place.
“Online gambling has changed significantly in recent years with many European countries taking new approaches to regulation,” Sutcliffe said. “It would be wrong of us to stand still where things are changing around us.”
In other words they have realised how much money the Italians are making from tax revenues and are looking to follow the same model to help stem their own haemorrhaging treasury debts.
The Italian betting market is booming after it successfully pressurised online bookmaking and poker sites to take up Italian gambling licences and pay tax on business with Italian customers at between 2% and 5%.
Quite whether the government manages to enforce these changes remains to be seen but the Hills’ and Ladbrokes’ lawyers have been given plenty of food for thought over the weekend – and the horseracing industry has been offered a rare crumb of comfort.