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A big Levy increase would come at expense of punters 04/12/2007
Greg Wood

On the basis that if you don't ask, you don't get, the racing industry deserves some respect for its submission to the government last week which politely requested a rise of between 40% and 60% in the Levy, the money raised for the sport from off-course bookmakers. When it comes to unfettered optimism, the bloke in the betting shop filling out a Round Robin has nothing on this lot.
James Purnell MP
Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

It now seems probable that the views of the independent members of the Levy Board will prevail on the matter, and the old scheme will simply be rolled over for another year, so we are unlikely to ever discover quite what the people in charge would have done with such an astonishing boost to their income.

Rather like the paper they are written on, though, ideas like this one have a habit of being recycled. We could well see it again this time next year, so it bears closer inspection. Forewarned, after all, is forearmed.

IAnd if that makes it sound like an extra £40m would be something other than good news for racing, it is worth remembering where this money would actually be coming from.

Punters pay the Levy. They always have, and they always will. It is their contribution to the sport that gives them their fun, and there can be no complaints about that. The owners do something similar at the other end of the industry with their training and entry fees, and everyone in between - bookies included - is in racing to get out what they can.

Punters get some of their money back in winnings, while owners hope to receive prize money, but in the end, these two groups are the major net contributors whose investment keeps the whole show on the road.

While the whole Levy process seems complicated, it is effectively a question of the degree to which ordinary punters, most of them on average or below- average wages, should subsidise the owners, people who - again on average - are doing rather better when it comes to disposable income.

If there were any evidence of a flight from racing by owners, then a 40% hike in the Levy might at least be an arguable proposition. But the opposite seems to be true, with horses balloted out of low-grade races at the all-weather tracks on an almost daily basis.

It was also telling that the racing submission sought an increase in the amount of Levy paid by betting exchanges - which still effectively means Betfair - from £6m to £20m.

Exchanges have been a wonderful innovation for all punters, even those who would not be able to find the "on" switch on a computer.

Their impact on the on-course market has fed into the off-course starting prices, giving punters a better deal for their money, while the imminent arrival of the Betfair SP should also help to keep the greedier elements of the racing industry "honest".

It is a thought worth bearing in mind, if only because you never know when you might find a millionaire with their hand in your pocket.

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