Racing: NAPP wakes up to new possibilities

Greg Wood finds the punters' pressure group is now optimistic about its future
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The Independent Online
The movers and shakers at the top end of the racing industry barely even bothered to lobby the Chancellor for tax breaks in his first Budget yesterday, but at the other end of the pile, there is renewed hope that the arrival of a new Government may herald a better deal for Britain's punters.

Three months ago, the small band of devoted campaigners who form the National Association for the Protection of Punters (NAPP) were preparing to disband their organisation, their energies finally sapped by lack of funding and the stubborn refusal of both bookmakers and administrators to acknowledge the need for consumer protection. Now, though, NAPP is planning for the future with fresh optimism, which is bad news for any bookmaker who attempts to wriggle out of payment over a legitimate winning bet.

In the last six months alone, the organisation has helped to extract almost pounds 8,000 from bookmakers attempting to pull a fast one, including one cheque for pounds 2,150 for Andrea Smith, a South Shields punter whose local layer refused to cough up for a successful accumulator on Frankie Dettori Day at Ascot last year.

The most disturbing aspect of this case was that The Sporting Life's Green Seal Service, a self-appointed arbiter of betting disputes, had previously found in favour of the bookmaker, a decision which, almost without exception, baffled and angered any experienced backer who saw a copy of Mrs Smith's betting slip. The creation of an independent, well- publicised arbitration service to settle such disputes remains one of NAPP's priorities, since as Michael Singer, its chairman, admits, "99 per cent of punters probably don't even know we exist, so the 60 or 70 cases we take up each year are almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg."

Among the disputes on NAPP's books is one between two brothers and a bookmaker in Nottingham. "They went in every week," Singer says, "and did dozens of sports accumulators, mainly two or three quid jobs, starting in September and running for six or nine months on things like the FA Cup, Wimbledon, the Superbowl and Grand Prix racing. The bookie took them week after week, knowing full well that the chance of them winning was virtually nil.

"But then they hit a big one, worth pounds 32,000 with bits and pieces which took it close to pounds 50,000, and the bookmaker refused to pay. He had a six- month investigation and came up with a rule that says when the same selection is on more than one slip, they can limit payments to 33-1. I've spoken to Ladbrokes, Hills and Coral and they'd have no problem with it, they take these sort of things all the time."

It is cases like this which make it essential that NAPP not only survives, but prospers. "We were ready to give up earlier this year," Singer says. "But then we had a meeting with Alan Meale [a Labour MP with a particular interest in racing] and he was adamant we must not fold and promised us his full backing.

"He advised us to apply for charitable status, which would allow us to receive funding for campaigns on specific issues, and we're in the process of that at the moment. There are so many things which need to be addressed, like arbitration, levy being charged on sports bets [and then retained by the bookmaker], and representation for the punters who are paying the levy."

There is still a long way to go, but it could be that even the bookmakers have at last started to realise that what is good for their customers might actually be of benefit to them as well. The cause of Britain's put- upon punters no longer seems entirely hopeless.