Almanack: The Gatwick Stakes

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AN UNSEEMLY row has broken out at Gatwick, where plans to add a betting shop to the shopping plaza have fallen foul of the airlines using the airport. What can their objection be to this admirable scheme? Are they worried that

delay-crazed persons, gaga with enforced muzak, may go punt-happy and blow all the money they should have spent on Duty Free goods in flight? Are they miffed that Gatwick makes more money from shops than it does from flights? No. They are worried about punters delaying departures.

The airlines claim that the shop, which is to be sited close to passport control in the North Terminal, may delay flights as passengers wait for results. 'Imagine it's the Grand National,' says Robert Schumacher, a spokesman for the airlines, 'and someone has put a wager on it and there's a stewards' inquiry. They could easily misjudge the time.'

Gatwick staff are quick to calm such fears. 'It's a 14-month trial,' says the airport's Kerry Ansell smoothly, 'and it will be closely monitored. Flight information will be relayed into the betting shop.' Isn't there a possibility of confusion between the two? Might punters find themselves seeking a 'spread' on the arrival time of BA 142 from Rio, or panic when they hear 'going behind at Gate 12'? Coral insists that the screens and 'blowers' will be adequately distinguished.

Racing fans will have noted the appropriateness of the venue: Gatwick, once a racecourse, hosted the Grand National in 1917-18.