Racing: Cook suggests a trade-off

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The Independent Online


As the odds against One Man tightened for one Tote-sponsered contest yesterday, the price against bookmakers being allowed to bet on Lottery numbers shortened dramatically at another Tote event.

One Man's position at the top of betting lists for next Thursday's Cheltenham Gold Cup has, of course, been bolstered by the injury which has forced last year's Blue Riband winner, Master Oats, to miss the race. Gordon Richards's grey is now as low as 11-10, with William Hill - a price that is easily irresistible given that he is due to be put through his paces at Carlisle racecourse this morning and that the weather still has sufficient time to deliver unsuitably swampy conditions.

The bookmakers have a longer and more tortuous course to complete if they are to counteract the Lottery by being able to take bets on which numbers will come up.

The suggestion, by Robin Cook, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, at the Tote annual lunch in London, that in the event of Labour winning the next election betting on the Lottery would be considered came with the proviso that William Hill and Ladbrokes should install the Tote Direct terminals that enable customers of the Tote, Coral and numerous independent firms to bet straight into Tote pools. That extra input could, in turn, stimulate pools so that a regular million-pound payout bet could be established to take on the Lottery.

"Labour has set up a Working Party to examine ways to amend the Lottery with bookmaker-betting on the jackpot numbers one of the issues under consideration," Cook said. "The evidence from Ireland is that such a step was successful in helping small bookmakers stay in business.

"I would argue that any measure that keeps betting shops open and keeps the public coming through the door is in racing's interests.

"The enormous interest in the Lottery across the nation because of its large payout has revealed racing's failure to attract a big enough pool to capture the popular imagination.

"The Tote cannot offer that without more outlets. If Ladbrokes and Hills were to drop their opposition to Tote Direct terminals in their shops, Labour might be more accommodating to their desire to bet on the Lottery numbers.

"I am not suggesting anything so crude as a deal. New Labour is a gentle, non-threatening animal. I am not confident we could go five rounds in the negotiating ring with the likes of Tom Kelly [of the Betting Office Licensees Association]. I am, though, suggesting that one positive attitude might provoke another in response."

Lord Wyatt, the Tote's chairman, re-stated in the bluntest way his outright opposition to the British Horseracing Board's ambition of taking control of the Tote. "In the words of a great Lady well known to us all, 'No, No, No'," he said.

Wyatt also gave a tip for the Gold Cup in Dublin Flyer, but Cook, who writes a tipping column in the Glasgow Herald, offered words of caution that anyone betting at Cheltenham would do well to heed. "I firmly believe," he said, "that the Government of Great Britain would be in sounder hands if every senior politician was exposed weekly to the ritual humiliation of seeing their tips fail."