Savill calls for abolition of levy system

Peter Savill, the chairman of the British Horseracing Board, has called for an end to the levy system within two years following the agreement on Friday of a £61million payment from bookmakers for the 2000-01 financial year.

Peter Savill, the chairman of the British Horseracing Board, has called for an end to the levy system within two years following the agreement on Friday of a £61million payment from bookmakers for the 2000-01 financial year.

The deal between bookmakers and the Horserace Betting Levy Board was agreed without the matter being referred for settlement to the Home Office and represents a 15% increase on the current expected annual levy yield to racing of £53million.

Savill, whose Financial Plan calls on bookmakers to pay racing an extra £80million out of turnover, claimed that the agreement was below the Levy Board's own assessment of what betting should pay racing.

He said: "The BHB has agreed unanimously to call on government to replace the levy with a more commercial mechanism within the next two years. Not only is the structure of the levy system unfair but its implementation clearly also leaves much to be desired."

Savill added that he would be seeking an urgent meeting with Mike O'Brien, the Home Office minister responsible for gambling.

"We have no wish to subject ourselves each year to this charade and its funeral is unlikely to be well attended," he said.

"We must continue to encourage government to remove itself from our industry as quickly as possible so that we can free ourselves from the shackles of the levy."

Savill attacked the Levy Board over the £61million settlement which he said had been reached without the direct involvement of racing.

He challenged the Levy Board to explain why it did not refer the matter to the Home Office for settlement when bookmakers had offered less than what the Levy Board agreed to be a fair amount.

Savill was supported by other members of the BHB, who like him also sit on the Levy Board.

Angus Crichton-Miller, also chairman of the Racecourse Association, said that the £61million deal was as a result of "grubby horse trading between a few people" and that the settlement "terminally discredited the levy system".

David Oldrey, who sits on the Levy Board on behalf of racing, added that the negotiations were a "singularly depressing run over the same course" and that bookmaker profits, clearly indicating the betting industry's ability to pay more than £61 million, "were well documented".

Tristram Ricketts, chief executive of the BHB said: "This is a further nail in the levy's coffin. We would like to see an end to the levy system in the shortest possible time and it is to that we will be directing our efforts."

Levy Board chairman Robert Hughes refused to accept Savill's criticism.

"It is about time the British Horseracing Board faced up to the real world," he said.

"The £61million forecast yield for next year's levy is the highest settlement figure ever achieved and sets a benchmark for the future.

"It represents a 15% increase over this year's expected £53million. At a time when inflation is running at around 2%, the settlement is a successful outcome for racing by any commercial standard.

"The levy process is not designed to deliver the quantum leap (another £72million) to racing's income from betting to which the BHB aspires. But it has provided a machinery for reconciling two positions that are a long way apart.

"Those who call for the Levy to be abolished need to consider how £61million a year for racing can be replaced by commercial means."

Warwick Bartlett, chairman of the Bookmakers Committee of the Levy Board called on the BHB to join them in the campaign to reduce betting duty as a way of boosting the levy.

Bartlett said: "If half the energy which the BHB puts into complaining about the levy agreement were spent on persuading the government of the justice of the case for a reduction in duty we would be in sight of the winning post.

"In particular can we have an end to the personal nature of recent statements by some prominent figures in racing.

"These are damaging the image of the industry and make future co-operation very difficult."

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