The sport is in a dangerous moment according to a former betting executive and the 2005 Gambling Act is a chief factor
The internal combustion engine, powered flight, electricity, universal suffrage and two world wars are just a few of the transformative inventions, discoveries and events which have occurred since horse racing and bookmaking began their very successful association in the 1790s.
So it is quite something to open this mornings Racing Post and read that Richard Flint, until very recently the chief executive of Sky Bet, feels that racing and betting face an existential threat as a result of increasingly negative attitudes towards gambling, both in Parliament and in the British public in general.
Flint spent 18 years at Sky Bet including a decade in the top job. He was also, almost uniquely for such a senior executive in gambling, willing to engage with punters on social media and explain – or attempt to explain – why his firm restricts the stakes of regular winners.
The profile of people who think of [gambling] as a vice and harmful, and argue that it is those things, is higher now than it has been in my experience over the last 20 years, Flint told the Post. That perspective is more influential among policy makers than other perspectives.
That is why I think it is a dangerous moment for the betting industry and by extension for the racing industry because there are more politicians with a very negative view of the industry than there are with a positive view.
When asked if racing and betting face an existential threat, Flint pointed to recent regulation in Italy, which raised gambling taxes and banned TV advertising.
The political situation is very unstable, he said. Gambling is something that at the moment all the parties agree needs to be more highly regulated. It is quite conceivable that an Italian-type situation could develop and this could affect racing. If all advertising was banned it would take racing off terrestrial TV, it would stop race sponsorships and it would do vast harm to racings finances.
I dont think it would do anything to solve the problem of gambling addiction and there is a scenario where that sort of things happens, so the risk could be existential.
Well, anythings possible, including 100-1 winners of the Grand National, which is one of the reasons that bookmaking has survived – and thrived – for more than 200 years. And Flint is certainly correct that tighter regulation of the entire industry, and the online sector in particular, is only a matter of time.
But the idea that new rules could effectively regulate betting – and therefore racing – out of existence is quite a leap. The widespread belief that there is a need for tighter regulation of gambling – which I happen to share – is a reaction to the 2005 Gambling Act, which shifted the rules in the opposite direction (so much so, in fact, that it is often difficult to see the boundaries at all).
The 2005 Act did away with the long-standing distinction between betting, where the operator can lose, and gaming, where they cannot. The most obvious effect was the explosion of gaming machines in what had previously been high-street betting shops, and while tighter regulation of the stake levels has recently started to address that monumental mistake, there are no limits online.
As a result, there is a huge temptation – in fact, almost a business imperative – for bookies like Skybet to use betting as a loss leader to attract new customers, who are then pushed towards gaming products via emails, texts and free spin offers on their apps. But betting and gaming are not complementary products. It is not all just gambling. One is the enemy of the other, and the failure of the 2005 Act to appreciate the difference was perhaps the deepest of its many flaws.
Humans beings will gamble whether it is legal or not, and the most sensible way for a government of any hue to address that fact is to have a legal, well-regulated gambling industry which pays its taxes and embraces its social responsibilities. We are some distance away from that at present, but if the main focus of the next Gambling Act is on gaming, which is where it should be, betting – and racing – could actually benefit as a result.
Newbury, Haydock and Newmarket are among the high-profile tracks which are racing today, but this evenings card at Hamilton trumps them all in terms of prize money with 124,000 on offer and the most interesting race from a betting perspective too in the six-furlong Scottish Stewards Cup.
Summerghand, one of the favourites overnight, has been scratched this morning but it is still a fiercely competitive event for which Admiralty is currently the marginal favourite at 9-2 after a strong showing over seven furlongs in last weekends Bunbury Cup. He is a strong-travelling sort who should be suited by the drop back to six, but the same could be said for Lake Volta (7.40), who was just behind Admiralty at Newmarket and races off a 3lb lower mark today.
Repartee (3.40) was an impressive winner on debut and should follow up today at Newbury, while Fortune And Glory (4.40) deserves close consideration on the same card at around 7-2. Fighting Temeraire (8.55) is worth waiting for in the last at Newmarket this evening, while Star Of Southwold (8.00) ran really well at Carlisle last time and can race off a 2lb lower mark today.