Racing: Bookies in fear of the Rock

IT IS less than a month since Victor Chandler won the right to advertise his off-shore betting business on teletext, but a definite shift in the betting habits of Britain's credit punters is already emerging. Chris Bell, the managing director of Ladbrokes, said yesterday that "hundreds" of previously regular customers are now "off the radar" as far as his firm is concerned, and more are disappearing by the week.

You do not need the razor-sharp business brain of either man to work out where they, or rather their bets, have gone.

This is a serious and growing problem, not only for Ladbrokes and their major competitors, but for racing too. The sort of punters who are most tempted to dial Chandler's call centre in Gibraltar, where the deductions are three per cent, rather than the usual nine, are the ones who bet in three figures rather than the occasional tenner.

It is these customers who apply the serious dollops of oil to the industry's machinery, and as a result account for a significant part of the Levy which is returned to racing from betting turnover. If their money heads for the Mediterranean, all those gears and pistons could suddenly seize up.

"I can't prove where these people have gone," Bell said yesterday, "but when they are disappearing in fairly significant quantities, it would be logical to assume that they've gone to a competitor offering better terms, and it defies logic for us to allow that to continue. If someone is stealing your customers, no responsible company can allow that to go on ad infinitum.''

Ladbrokes, as it happens, already has a presence on Gibraltar, but the firm goes to great lengths to ensure that it takes no bets originating in the UK.

The Rock has been alive with rumours ever since Chandler's arrival that either Ladbrokes or another leading British bookie, or perhaps all of them, will soon take up residence and start offering low- or no-tax bets to British punters.

Some of the talk is probably started by Gibraltar's landlords, since Chandler's 300-strong operation - it is already the Rock's largest private- sector employer - is struggling to find accommodation for its staff.

Logistically, in fact, it may even be questionable whether Gibraltar would have the space for several major credit bookies. This may in itself concentrate the minds of companies deciding whether to emigrate, since there are no alternative locations this side of the Caribbean for bookies hoping to operate in a tax-friendly environment.

It must be very frustrating for a company as big as Ladbrokes to have to watch as a relatively small player carves out a share of an important market. Its executives know only too well that Ladbrokes itself was a minor bookmaker catering for the gentry until it appreciated and grabbed the opportunity offered by the legalisation of betting shops in the early 1960s.

The global communications revolution, and the betting boom that will surely follow, is arguably an even greater chance to expand and prosper.

Bell, however, insists that at present, his company has "no plans to change from a group perspective what we do, although obviously we are considering all options and it is a very dynamic situation."

But that thinking will doubtless change very rapidly if the Government does not move quickly to make a significant reduction in the rate of betting duty. He and his fellow bookies are lobbying for a cut to three per cent, and are not in a mood to compromise. And as Bell concedes, an odds-compiler putting a price on a reduction in duty would make it a shade of odds-against.

The predictions of some senior figures in the betting industry, that a major player will decamp to Gibraltar in "weeks rather than months", may be a little exaggerated, but not by much, and a full- scale rush to southern Spain could be underway well before Christmas.

For punters, of course, this should be good news, in the short term at least, as the amount they pay for the privilege of being able to bet shrinks overnight.

Whether it will seem like quite such a bonus if the finances and quality of British racing go into freefall is another matter.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
tech
Sport
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
sport
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
Sport
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
News
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Project Manager

£17100 - £22900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Turner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established manufactu...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral