It’s now my pleasure to introduce the Minister for Sport, Gerry Sutcliffe.
We’re very grateful to the Minister for finding the time to be here today. Gerry, I know that your job’s not an easy one. All sports are affected by the recession to some degree and, on top of that, you have the forthcoming challenge of the London Olympics. So thank you for making time in your busy schedule to join us again this year.
Apart from your personal support and love of Racing, your involvement in our affairs over the past year has been largely focused on how Racing is financed and, in particular, Racing’s relationship with the Betting industry via the Levy.
We’ve had numerous meetings with you and your officials since we all committed last year to work together to modernise the Levy. We want a fit for purpose Levy without any need for recourse to Government. Our case is set out in the BHA’s Annual Review.
A fair return from betting is an immediate issue for Racing. Britain with our tradition of bookmaking is lagging behind every other racing nation when it comes to the quantum of that return. Whilst betting operators, exchanges and bookmakers are announcing healthy profits and some operators move offshore to avoid levy and tax, Racing, the sport, the real people and the real lives that depend on it, continues to be under-funded. Racing’s position can only deteriorate in a recessionary environment and this contrasts starkly with the major bookmaking firms (only in the last week) reporting excellent results and claiming to be relatively resilient to an economic downturn.
The Levy return has to reflect the true commercial value of Racing’s fixture list. That will be addressed through modernisation of the structure, content and process of the Levy which was of course our pre-condition of the deal that we agreed for the 48th Levy scheme last October. It’s also the only way in which we will finally get the framework between Racing and betting right.
Minister, in the letter we received from your Officials last Friday we welcome your continued and clear commitment to and I quote “promote the modernisation agenda”. You see this as quote “fundamental and necessary if we’re to move to practical, long-term arrangements which reflect business realities”. We also welcome your continued commitment to consider and pursue the issue of those individuals that are effectively operating as bookmakers through betting exchanges yet paying no levy. Furthermore, we note you recognise there are issues with regard to offshore operators not contributing back to the sport through the Levy.
As you know, there are still other outstanding matters. We’ve made clear to you, the fixture list for 2010 must be finalised by July this year. Between now and then we’ll continue constructive negotiations with betting on a commercial basis which will involve discussions on matters such as gaming machines and UK betting on overseas racing. We very much wish that we will reach a deal. Our sincere hope is that betting feels the same. Certainly, it can be under no illusion as to the strength and integrity of our case.
Minister, everyone in this room with Racing’s best interest at heart thanks you for your commitment to the sport, to modernisation, and to seeking an equitable long-term resolution that sees Racing enjoying a fair share of its true value to the betting industry.