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Tracks furious at pro-bookie report 24/1/2008
Greg Wood

Senior officials at the Racecourse Association yesterday expressed "outrage" after a cross-party Parliamentary committee suggested that on-course bookmakers should be compensated - by the tracks if necessary - to ensure that they do not lose out when rules for the administration of betting rings change in 2012.
Racecourse Association
Racecourse Association

The report by MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport committee is a resounding endorsement of the campaign by on-course bookies to retain the right to buy and sell their "picks" for positions in the ring. Picks have been bought and sold for the past 10 years, with the most sought-after positions, at Cheltenham and Ascot, often selling for £100,000 or more. Most bookies believed they bought their picks "in perpetuity" and expected to be able to cash in on their investment if necessary.

The Gambling Act 2005 makes no provision for this system to continue indefinitely, and the RCA told the bookies' trade organisation last year that courses wanted to negotiate a commercial rate for betting rights from September 1, 2012. The value of "picks" dropped by up to 40%, and many bookies, at least one of whom has invested nearly £1m in picks, feared that their value would ultimately vanish.

Having heard evidence from all interested parties, the CMS committee appears to have come down on the side of the bookies. Its report expresses disappointment at the RCA's attitude, suggesting that "negotiations would have progressed much more smoothly if the RCA had taken a less confrontational approach".

Its key conclusion from the bookmakers' point of view, though, is that "considerable amounts have been invested by those who have bought lists positions under the existing system in good faith and this cannot be ignored". The reports adds: "If racecourses wish to move to a fully commercial relationship for the allocation and pricing of pitch positions, we believe that they should compensate list position holders for their losses."

This suggestion enraged the RCA. "The RCA is disappointed that a parliamentary select committee has misunderstood the facts and tried to interfere in the way in which independent businesses will engage in commercial activities in 2012," David Thorpe, the RCA's chairman, said.

"The suggestion that racecourses should compensate bookmakers is nothing short of outrageous. Racecourses have never benefited from the trading of list positions between bookmakers who have had many, many years of commercial benefit from trading on course and paying to racecourses a nominal fixed charge."

The Federation of Racecourse Bookmakers reacted to the report with delight. "We welcome the fact the select committee report has comprehensively supported the FRB's position," Robin Grossmith, a director of the organisation, said. "All we want is fair play and justice."

The bookies had more to celebrate at Huntingdon, where the opening race saw 50-1 chance Space Mission hold off the challenge of I Have Dreamed, the 13-8 favourite. "He just needed time," Paul Webber, his trainer, said. "I think he's going to be very, very good."
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