President of the National Association of bookmakers, Keith Johnson, has put £1.7m pounds worth of betting pitches up for sale as he seeks to scale down his activity on the racetracks. Johnson says this is because he has to do more of the day to day administration, and because new regulations coming in on 1 September will make it much more expensive to sell. But you can’t help but wonder how much the imminent changes regarding the sale and licensing of pitches has to do with it.
Bookmakers first began to understand the impact the changes the Gambling Act 2005 would bring in about four years ago. Put simply, they allow racecourses to disregard the old established way of selling bookmaker positions, and use a commercial, highest offer approach, to allocate who would stand where. After much negotiation, in which Johnson has played a major part in his capacity as NAB representative, new arrangements come into play at the start of next month.
Johnson tried to sell his pitch at Beverley. In 2008 he had pitch 9, and when all the more senior bookies turned up, Johnson was pushed down the rails to a less profitable position about 30 yards away from the finishing line. If none of them had attended, he would have had the prime spot on the line. He said then, “I could see that my future and my family's future was in jeopardy. Before I invested any of my money I was given assurances that should I buy any of these pitches they would be mine forever, in perpetuity.”
That is no longer the case, and Johnson has put pitches at 15 racecourses up for sale. These include the Cheltenham Festival Tattersalls 6 pitch, i.e. sixth down from the finishing line, for which the asking price is £160,000 and Aintree County Stand 4, for £130,000. Well, you never see a poor bookmaker, do you? He’s holding on to spots at Chester, Goodwood and York.
Summarising his position, Johnson told the Racing Post, “I’ve so far sold about six or seven of those I’ve put up for sale and when that number gets to around ten, I’ll draw stumps and pull the rest off the market. I’m not as young as I was, I’ve got a few medical issues and the office work means I can’t get to racing as often as I’d like, so it makes sense to cut back. But I am definitely not getting out of the game.”