Bookmakers and horsemen race to the gutter in war of words over levy

Bookmakers-Horsemen-War-WordsWith just days to go until the Oct. 31 deadline for reaching a new deal on the UK’s horseracing levy, it appears it will take government intervention to resolve the dispute between bookmakers and horsemen. As the clock ticks down, the opposing sides are ratcheting up the rhetoric, choosing to conduct the debate in public via increasingly angry press releases rather than exchanging words across a negotiating table.

Using a formula that combines the existing levy contribution and the payments made to permit live broadcasts in betting shops, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) estimates that the total sum remitted to the BHA in 2010 was £160M, only 2.4% less than in 2009. The ABB has also charged BHA chief Nic Coward with “plucking figures out of thin air” for citing any other such formulation.

Not to be outdone, BHA chairman Paul Roy referred to the ABB proposal as ‘derisory’. (God bless the English for keeping language alive – an American involved in the same debate would presumably have said ‘not good’ or something.)

The BHA really must be looking at this as an Alamo-type stand. Already reeling from an increasingly disinterested British betting public turning to football and other sports, races are being forced to lower prize moneys. This has a ripple effect, causing top owners and trainers to stay away, which lowers bettor interest even further. In short, the BHA is facing a death spiral. But rather than trot off into the sunset, it’s chosen to dig in its hooves. Bit of the Dunkirk spirit, as Bob Hoskins’ character from The Long Good Friday might say.

In another piece of news involving the Empire’s horseracing business, South Australia’s Thoroughbred Racing SA has announced that Sportsbet has dropped legal action that was blocking some $5.5M in annual payments from all bookmakers. Too early to say whether this is a harbinger of things to come in the Commonwealth’s home island, but the BHA will probably take any favorable omens it can get at this point.