Racing: Bookies must pay fair price

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The Independent Online
ROB HUGHES, the chairman of the Levy Board, is to take a tough line in an attempt to resolve the festering, increasingly bitter dispute between Peter Savill, chairman of racing's rulers, the British Horseracing Board, and bookmakers over the amount of levy that the layers should contribute to the sport.

Rather than be guided by the bookmakers' own notion of what they should pay, or the BHB's wildly different figure, the three independent Levy Board members are to conduct their own assessment of what they consider to be a fair price for bookmakers to pay in the forthcoming Levy negotiations.

Hughes outlined his plans yesterday: "We now have more data than ever before, with the Coral sale, flotation of William Hill and the sale of on-course bookmakers' pitches, as well as the BHB's Financial Plan outlining what they would like.

"The three independent members of the Levy Board - myself, deputy chairman John Robb and Keith Elliott - will conduct an independent assessment of what we think the settlement should be. With all that information, I am confident that independent members can agree what should be a reasonable settlement."

Once an amount had been decided, Hughes strongly urged bookmakers to accept it when the final figure must be met in the autumn, rather than referring the matter to the Home Office.

"If bookmakers make a reasonable offer, we will vote for it, then hopefully it will become a settlement. I would like everybody to agree, but it doesn't have to be that way.

"If the bookmakers offer is not reasonable, based on our objective assessment, it will be passed on to the Home Secretary with our assessment that it is not a reasonable offer. The Home Secretary does not want to adjudicate on this and what is new this time is that he will have our information from day one."

If the three independent members and the bookmakers agree then the assessment will be accepted, but if they disagree then the matter will have to be referred to the Home Secretary.

In reference to the ongoing war between Savill and the bookmaking fraternity that has resulted in a fixture list for next year that has been manipulated so that it does not meet the bookmakers' expectations, Hughes stressed the need for compromise.

"It is sometimes better to take half a loaf now and then get a full loaf later than to stand out on one's pride," he stated.

"The system doesn't work by hitting the bookies over the head and I continually plead for everyone to sit around the table and look at it together - it is in everybody's interests to do that.

"If we get confused messages from racing it is very hard to make head or tail of the message we are getting. It's important that people like me receive a unified message - we can't stand too many more things like the recent fixtures saga."