The Tote, which offers betting facilities on all the country's racecourses, announced yesterday that an offer to treble the normal rates of pay had failed to persuade its workers to turn out on the first day of the new century. As a result, six race meetings planned for 1 January now seem sure to be either postponed or cancelled.
"We were looking at having quite a few thousand people here," Grant Knowles, the chief executive of Plumpton racecourse, said yesterday. "If we can't put on a full Tote service we're wasting our time." Mr Knowles's own staff, from the gatemen to the caterers, had already agreed to work on 1 January, and the course's restaurant was fully booked two months ago.
"We decided we would offer three times their salary," Rob Hartnett, the Tote's public relations director, said yesterday, "but they said no. The majority feeling was that even if the pay was vaguely reasonable, they would still prefer to spend the day with their families."
Sports fans may well decide to spend the whole of 1 January in bed. The football authorities announced several weeks ago that no matches would be played until Monday 3 January, a Bank Holiday.
Plumpton now hopes to move its meeting to 2 January, when no racing was originally scheduled, and one or more of the other courses may follow suit. Whether the major bookmakers will be prepared to open their doors to accommodate customers on 2 January is unclear, however. Sundays are traditionally slow in betting shops.
Britain's punters may well have to wait at least 48 hours to back their first loser of the new millennium.
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