Racing leaders braced for ‘most critical period’

Racing is facing its “most critical period” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, industry leaders have warned.

Deep concerns have been aired about the potential impact from the introduction of affordability thresholds for online betting customers, with the Gambling Commission currently undergoing a consultation process on on remote customer interaction, while the continued absence of spectators from racecourses and Brexit issues are also prominent.

The British Horseracing Authority has submitted a response to the Gambling Commission on behalf of the industry, and a statement issued from the sport’s tripartite members said: “The submission focuses on the economic consequences for racing and jobs in rural areas, the lack of evidence in support of the intervention and the disproportionate impact on people who bet safely and lawfully.

“The BHA, the Racecourse Association and The Horsemen’s Group discussed the industry’s response at a meeting last week and believe there could be a disastrous impact on racing’s finances and its recovery from Covid-19.

Racegoers made a brief one-day return at Doncaster's St Leger meeting as part of a crowd trial scheme - but racecourses still remain empty
Racegoers made a brief one-day return at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting as part of a crowd trial scheme – but racecourses still remain empty (David Davies/PA)
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“Racing supports the Government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act and its intention to address the potential for harm. It agrees that gambling laws should be fit for the digital age as well as recognise the economic contribution made by the betting industry and associated industries such as horseracing.

“The BHA’s members believe this is the appropriate way to consider a significant intervention such as a new affordability threshold and that parliamentarians should examine any resulting proposals.”

Racecourse Association chief executive David Armstrong said: “Racing is approaching the most critical period since the beginning of the pandemic.

“With external regulatory issues facing us in the form of the Affordability Review, the Gambling Act Review and Brexit plus no immediate prospect of racegoers returning, the next six months will be the most crucial period on our recovery journey.

“The support from the Members Committee at this time is very welcome – the industry must pull together in these challenging times.”

On the subject of spectators and the impact of the pandemic, BHA chief executive Julie Harrington said: “A majority of our work, and of leaders across the industry, is currently focused on a range of financial issues that are vital to racing recovering from the impact of Covid.

Empty bookmaker pitches at Goodwood
Empty bookmaker pitches at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We have to plan for a range of possibilities and are working with government and other sports on the return of spectators and owners as soon as that is possible. We thank our owners for their patience and continued support amidst the current uncertainty.”

Charlie Liverton, chief executive of the Racehorse Owners Association, said: “The effect of Covid-19 continues to impact British Racing, both on and off the racecourse. The potential ramifications of Government reviews including the Gambling Act and the Affordability Review are concerning, and the support from the Members Committee in tackling these challenges is very welcome.

“Owners continue to support the industry week in, week out, and we extend our sincere thanks once again for their contributions. The return of owners to the racecourse remains a key objective, working with the RCA and BHA to open up racecourses to racegoers as soon as regulations allow.”

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