Racing: Club fears lottery

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THE PACE quickened yesterday in the race for the punters' pound when the Jockey Club announced the measures it seeks in order to be able to compete on equal terms with the Government's proposed national lottery, writes John Cobb.

Racing's rulers perceive a lottery as a very real threat to the levy on off-course betting turnover which makes such a large contribution to the sport's income.

Evidence from New Zealand shows that in the two years following the introduction of a lottery there the proportion of betting on racing fell from 97 per cent to 46 per cent. The economists employed by the Jockey Club forecast that the introduction in Britain of a similar scheme could cost racing as much as pounds 8.3m a year in lost income.

The Club are not opposed in principle to a lottery, which is likely to yield between pounds 1.5 billion and pounds 4 billion annually to benefit the arts, sport and national heritage, but which is unlikely to be implemented for at least 18 months.

Yesterday the Club outlined the case it has presented to the Home Office for reimbursement of the amount by which the sport's income will be reduced. This could take the form of direct payments from lottery funds or by a reduction in betting duty combined with a corresponding adjustment to the levy.

It also seeks legislation which would enable racing to compete on a 'level playing field' with the lottery, which will not be subject to the same sort of restrictions that affect betting shops.

In particular it wants the lifting of laws which forbid the evening and Sunday opening of betting shops and which make the shops unattractive through limiting their design. To complete the series of measures that will certainly appeal to bookmakers if not to the Home Office, the Jockey Club wants the restrictions on the advertising of betting to be lifted.