Agreement on pitch positions settles bookmaker nerves

The Gambling Act of 2005 spelled the end of the traditional way of allocating bookmaker pitches at racecourses in which once bought, a pitch stayed with the bookie for the lifetime of the racecourse. Some firms had paid over £1m for prime spots at some of the top tracks, seeing these as long term investments, money which changed regulation could turn into as much use as a losing betting slip.

The new rules left racecourses and bookmakers free to make their own arrangements about who stood where, in what had the potential to become a bidding war in a rampant free market. Five years of negotiations between the Racecourse Association and the Federation came closer to an end yesterday when five courses, Hexham, Fakenham, Plumpton, Taunton and Stratford, signed a 40-year deal with the FRB. All the courses in England and Wales now have new agreements in place, leaving just the five Scottish tracks to conclude negotiations.

Three years ago, Towcester was the first course to reach agreement, and the FRB was delighted when they agreed to continue the original agreement, safeguarding bookmakers' futures there. Independent bookie Barry Johnson paid in the region of £50,000 at auction for his prime list position at Towcester and said he was delighted at the agreement. "Hopefully this will be a catalyst for other courses to fall into line. We were devastated when the initial bombshell was delivered that we would lose our list positions but this is great news. It is beneficial to both Towcester and the bookies but the main beneficiary is the punter, as this will ensure a vibrant and lively betting ring. I'm over the moon."

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It was hoped that other courses would follow suit, and Northern Racing has signed a similar 30-year deal to cover its tracks. Now work has to go forward ready for the changeover date of 1 September.

Keith Johnson, president of the National Association of Bookmakers, one of three industry bodies sheltering under the FRB’s umbrella said there was more work to do to fine tune issues around length of tenure, location betting areas and dispute resolution, but broadly welcomed the position that had been reached. He said, “I am pleased that as a result of the hard work of all concerned so many of the negotiations have now been concluded. After more than a decade of upheaval I look forward to a period of certainty in which bookmakers and racecourses work together to promote attendances and revitalise the betting ring.”

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