Racing: Punters face threat from track ban on exchanges

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Major off-course bookmakers were accused yesterday of operating "protectionist" policies.

Major off-course bookmakers were accused yesterday of operating "protectionist" policies. Betdaq, one of the leading betting exchanges, criticised the off-course layers for trying to engineer a ban on racecourse bookmakers using exchanges.

Punters benefited from the current practice in which "board" bookmakers at the tracks hedged bets with the exchanges, Rob Hartnett, Betdaq's managing director, said.

"Betting exchange services are here to stay – there's no going back," Hartnett continued. "The traditional end of the bookmaking spectrum should not seek to build a new 'level playing field' using a broken spirit-level.

"Betting shops, telephone betting, pictures, multiple betting and many other aspects of the traditional bookmaker service come at a price and there will always be members of the public willing to pay that price. It is wrong, however, in the extreme that this margin should be protected at the expense of a free market."

Betting exchanges are a relatively new arrival in the gambling industry. Punters, and some bookmakers, trade against each other on internet sites. The odds available are almost always better value than those on offer with the big high-street bookmaking chains. As a result, the off-course firms are seeing their profit-margins squeezed by the growing competition.

A meeting of the Levy Board on Wednesday failed to make a firm agreement over whether racecourse bookmakers should be allowed to lay-off bets with exchanges like Betdaq, or the market leader, Betfair.

But the indications were that if the voting pattern does not change over the coming months until a final decision is reached on the matter, then course bookies' use of exchanges could be banned.

Officials at the British Horseracing Board, who represent three of the eight Levy Board members, were unwilling to comment ahead of the re-convened meeting which has been scheduled for 19 March.

The identities of another 12 horses to have tested positive for morphine were released by the Jockey Club yesterday, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 27. The results of the B tests for another eight samples are expected before the end of the month, only one of the octet being a winner.

Among the dozen confirmed yesterday another three are winners – Supreme Salutation and Valazar from David Barron's stable and the Pippa Bickerton-trained Saxon Mill, bringing the number of winners facing disqualification to 13. The source of the morphine is thought to be a batch of feed.

Jumps racing is likely to resume at Kempton today after three blank days because of frost. "We are not forecast a frost overnight," Brian Clifford, Kempton's clerk of the course, said yesterday ahead of the two-day fixture at the track which features the £100,000 Racing Post Chase tomorrow.

Racing was lost at Huntingdon and Warwick yesterday but both courses are optimistic of staging their next fixtures, starting at Warwick today. Officials will inspect at 7.30am. At Musselburgh a thaw is needed to allow racing tomorrow. An inspection will be held at 4pm.