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Business Comment

James Moore: Bet bookies really hate this idea

Outlook: Sports have always had an ambivalent relationship with betting – not least because they don't make much money out of it.

But several governing bodies, through the Sports Rights Owners Coalition, would now like to see new rules that could change that by requiring bookies to pay them a "license fee" to be able to offer betting on their respective games.

Ostensibly they want "integrity costs" covered – things like policing against cheating. However, once the principle has been established it's not hard to imagine a situation where they might want more than just this paid for. Especially with revenues from other sources being squeezed while costs continue to rise.

Horseracing's position in this debate is equivocal. It already receives a fee through the statutory 10 per cent levy on bookmakers' racing profits, which funds not just security, but lots of other things (such as prize money) even though it is disliked by all sides. If every sport took a fee, so the thinking goes, there will be less for us.

But powerful figures within the industry are warming to the idea, reasoning that a license fee might give them a much better negotiating position than they currently have, not least because bookies enjoy a veto over the levy.

They also feel that it might help them claw back some of the money that has been lost through the shift of bookmakers' fast-growing online operations to Gibraltar.

There's a convergence of interest with Government here, which wants rid of its responsibility for the levy (because it has to bang heads together every time there's a dispute) and is increasingly restive over the tax it is losing from the gaming industry's migration offshore at a time when the deficit means every penny counts. Forcing a new "fee" might help recoup that. It's a guaranteed bet that bookies will fight it. But the idea has now got hares running.