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|Sports minister says offshore bookies must pay racing
| Income has
dropped 20% since Ladbrokes went abroad
Racing received a significant boost today to its
campaign to force bookmakers based overseas to pay the HorseraceBetting Levy
following a government promise to "ensure operators taking bets on British
races should pay their fair share".
Unveiling proposals that would require all
overseas bookmakers to be licensed by the Gambling Commission if they want to
operate in the UK, as revealed by the Guardian last month, the sports minister,
Gerry Sutcliffe, promised to ensure that the requirement to pay the Levy
applied to them.
"In terms of the Horserace Betting Levy, I remain
firmly of the view that all operators taking bets on British races should pay
their fair share. There is more to do but I am committed to making sure this
happens," he said.
For more than
a decade the horse racing industry has warned that a mass defection offshore by
bookmakers, thereby avoiding the levy on bets in Britain which goes straight to
the sport, could cripple racing's income and it claims it is now coming to
The decision last year by both William Hill and Ladbrokes to move
their online arms offshore has cost racing an estimated £4.2m, and the
overall take from the levy on bookmakers' gross profits was £93m in
2008-09, down 20% on the previous year.
The BHA chief executive, Nic
Coward, welcomed the move as a positive start to the new year for racing.
"Together we must ensure that the way in which the sport in this
country is funded is right for the modern age. Of course it's right that all
operators pay, wherever they are," he said.
"Offshore operators have
been getting away with it for too long and racing has taken a considerable hit
to its Levy income. It has also had the ever present threat of more moves
offshore with potentially severe consequences. Government clearly did not
intend this to happen and are now addressing it."
Under the immediate
licensing proposals, which are being consulted on, all operators active in the
British market would have to comply with the Gambling Act and be required to
report suspicious betting activity to the commission and sport governing
They will also have to comply with British licence
requirements, including the protection of children, and demonstrate how they
will contribute to the research, education and treatment of problem gambling in
"The new system outlined today will also ensure that all
businesses offering online gambling to our consumers adhere to our rules
not someone else's," added Sutcliffe.
While the Remote Gambling
Association has said it is amenable to discussions about bringing its members
under the aegis of the Gambling Commmission, it is likely it will bitterly
resist any move to apply the Levy.
A spokesman for Victor Chandler, one
of the first bookmakers to operate offshore, said it already contributed to
horse racing in the form of marketing and sponsorship.
"Because of our
contributions to Racing UK and At The Races, and our commitment to the Horse
Welfare Trust, we already feel we put an appropriate amount of money into
Sports governing bodies, which have been lobbying for a new
licensing system to combat the threat of match fixing and as a first step
towards arguing for a levy on all sports bets as in France, also welcomed
yesterday's Commons statement.
The 12-week consultation period,
unlikely to be launched for three to four weeks, and the need for new
legislation, are likely to push the issue beyond the coming general election.
But racing insiders are confident that the changes have cross-party support and
will be picked up by whichever party wins.