Could affordability checks impact British horse racing?

Many column inches have been devoted to affordability checks, as proposed by the Gambling Commission and agreed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which are detailed in a public consultation scheduled to last until October, 2023. Many are asking how these proposed checks will impact the average Joe, someone wanting to take advantage of free horse racing tips to place the odd bet for instance.

One of the stated aims of the Gambling Commission is to be ‘the trusted and authoritative voice on gambling’, yet, paradoxically, none of its board members has any professional experience in the gambling or horse racing industries. Even occasional punters, interested in free bookmaker bets, have hands on knowledge of the sport. Thankfully, six commissioners are due to be replaced over the next twelve months or so but, even if the new appointees are more representative of, and empathetic towards, the sectors they regulate, irreparable damage to horse racing may be unavoidable.

Many tens of thousands of punters and top bookmakers view affordability checks, of any description, as a personal affront. If those punters choose, or are forced, to stop betting altogether or, worse still, switch their attention to illegal, black market bookmakers, the financial viability of horse racing is at stake. The Horseracing Betting Levy Board collects a statutory levy, of 10% of bookmakers’ profits above £500,000, which is distributed for the improvement of the sport. Any fall in leviable betting turnover is bound to be detrimental to horse racing, yet the Gambling Commission apparently remains blissfully unaware that, if it has its way, it will be directly responsible for denying the sport essential funding.

Poor prize money is a constant cause of complaint among British racehorse owners and, with racecourse attendances falling as a result of the cost of living crisis, the Gambling Commission proposals really could be the last straw for the racing industry. As Tom Kerr rightly pointed out in the ‘Racing Post’, they are ‘offensive, meddlesome and damaging’ and we can only hope that the response to the public consultation is so overwhelming against that the ‘Nanny State’ is forced to beat the retreat.