BHA welcomes government review into levy reform

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has reacted positively to the recent announcement by Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston that the government will re-evaluate the timetable for reviewing the betting levy

Originally scheduled for 2024, racing’s Levy review has been brought forward to next year. The levy is a significant source of income for the horseracing industry, as it returns 10% of the profits made by betting companies to the sport’s critical stakeholders. 

It was last reformed in 2017, and in two of the three years since has yielded £45 million extra than it did previously.

The BHA have made further reform of the levy one of their primary objectives for much of this year. In August,  their Covid-19 Recovery Plan called for an urgent review as part of a wider initiative to restore industry finances in the wake of the pandemic. 

This was followed by a meeting between BHA Chair Annamarie Phelps and outgoing Chief Executive Nick Rust and Huddleston in September, where the issue of reviewing the Levy was discussed. MPs with constituency interests in horse racing were also engaged by BHA officials.

In October, the BHA joined the Jockey Club and the Horsemen’s Group in creating a “steering group,” whose goal was to present a “single set of proposals”  to the government calling for reform of the Levy in light of the heavy financial impact Covid-19 has had on horseracing. 

As racecourses rely on racegoers for 50% of their income, industry figures have been highly concerned about the further financial impact that a deep economic recession could have on the sport.

The Levy Steering Group is chaired by BHA independent director Joe Saumarez-Smith, who said: “The group will carry out a rapid assessment of Levy options as the government considers how best to help sports threatened by a further six months without spectators.”

UK racing leaders have also been calling for a greater return from bets placed on international racing, arguing that this was necessary “to level the playing field with other European racing nations after Brexit.” 

A switch to a system based on turnover rather than gross profits has also been advocated, as this could bring in tens of millions of pounds in extra income.

In response to the Sports Minister’s announcement, Rust said: “We welcome the announcement from the Minister that the DCMS will examine in 2021 the timetable for reviewing the Levy. Racing Industry leaders agreed that there was an urgent case for reform as part of our plans to recover from COVID-19 and have presented a united front to the government.

“As the Minister outlined in the House today, there are ongoing conversations between the BHA and government on Levy reform. We look forward to working with DCMS officials and ministers in 2021 to ensure that the Levy is sustainable and fit for the digital age.”

Rust was also supportive of the government’s decision to begin reviewing the 2005 Gambling Act with a 16 week call for evidence as well as the objective of protecting young and vulnerable people from gambling related harm. The review will cover betting sponsorship, gambling advertising, affordability checks and age verification.

He added: ““Betting on horseracing is enjoyed by millions of people safely and responsibly, with a low prevalence for gambling related harm. Despite the low levels of problem gambling in the sport, racing promotes responsible gambling and is committed to working with the betting industry to further reduce risk. We will also work closely with our partners in the betting and racing industry to formulate our response to the consultation.

“We are pleased to hear that the review will be evidence-based and we look forward to proposals that are proportionate and focused on those at risk. We know the government is aware of the potential impact on related industries such as British racing and the 80,000 livelihoods it supports. 

“The Minister, Nigel Huddleston, made clear in his address that the challenging conditions that sports find themselves in, and the importance of legitimate commercial relationships between sport and gambling, will be considered as part of the review.”

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