Sport levy for bookmakers a non-starter, says report

Horseracing is lucky to have a levy at all
Horseracing is lucky to have a levy at all

The attempt by more than 40 sports to get bookmakers to pay a levy similar to the one that is paid towards horseracing is likely to fall flat on its face following the results of a recent government study. And rightly so.

The report, compiled by Jason Foley-Train of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, concludes that the gambling industry contributes a staggering €3.4 billion towards sport in the EU each year – a total more than enough to compensate for the lack of a levy, which would serve to tackle increased betting-related corruption in sport.

Last year the chairman of the Sports Rights Owners Coalition, Nic Coward, called for a ‘fair return’ from bookmakers towards a whole range of grassroots and professional sports, but as Foley-Train‘s report, which was published at the Betting Show at Earl‘s Court yesterday, would suggests, if €3.4bn isn’t a fair return then Tiger Woods is gay. OK, so it didn’t quite suggest that – but it might as well have done.

I’m sorry but the notion that the bookmakers should as a rule shell out any money towards sport simply because they depend upon it for their business is farcical. I happen to be a sports journalist and therefore depend on sport to earn my living – but I don’t have to pay a levy any more than doctors have to pay car manufacturers or the Highways Agency for providing them with crash patients.

As Foley-Train says: “The assertion that gambling operators exploit the sporting product does not recognise that many other products also seek to associate with sport, but are not pursued for additional revenues.

“As such, the argument presented by sports that a new EU-wide statutory mechanism is required to permit sports greater control over the betting product and to enforce additional payments from gambling operators does not appear to be valid, necessary or proportionate.”

Horseracing is lucky it gets a levy at all. Without it, the sport would be dead on its feet and it is precisely because of this sort of dependency that it has become such a staid and ailing industry.

As for the England and Wales Cricket Board complaining that “not a penny” of the £500 million in online betting profits was returned to sports bodies, the message has again got to be – tough shit. Foley-Train suggests that there is already ample income “within the professional sporting sector” and he’s right on the money.

And so are the sportsmen. Cricket already receives ample money from television companies for the broadcasting of their matches – as do most major sports – and that‘s all they deserve. If they don’t like it, they can lump it. Without the TV revenue, there wouldn’t be any such thing as a cricketer millionaire. But without cricket, betting would still be doing well enough as it is thank you very much.

The 160-page report also highlighted the incongruity of sport seeking more revenue, while at the same time preventing betting sponsorship in a number of countries.

“Again, those who lobby for new statutory rights for sports over the gambling industry fail to properly acknowledge this positive secondary impact from the promotion of betting on sporting events, the symbiotic relationship that exists between the two industries, and where commercial forces rightly serve to balance and reflect the needs and interests of both parties.

In attempting to put betting-related corruption into context, Foley Train adds: “In 2008, suspicious cases relating to [nonbetting-related] doping were over 18 times more likely than a suspicious case involving betting on sport, and actual doping violations over 95 times more likely than corruption involving sports betting. There is at this point no firm evidence to substantiate the comment that betting presents as great a risk as doping”.

Dismissing the concept that bookmakers, “as polluters”, should pay more to clean up problems, Foley-Train also conncludes: “Far from being the polluter, licensed gambling operators are victims of corruption in sports. The polluters are those who corrupt sport either by seeking to affect outcomes or by sportspeople or officials who actively corrupt events.”

Hear, hear.