When the government announced it was to cut the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2, the news was greeted with a variety of different emotions by those with a stake in the gambling industry.
Of course, the social harm that FOBTs were causing on the high street could not be left unmanaged, as had been the case for a number of years.
But the loss of revenue was also guaranteed to hit high street betting shops hard, and it has been reported that more than 12,000 jobs could be lost when the dust has settled on toughening trading conditions for the bookies.
There is another upshot, too. The bookmakers pay into a levy fund designed to promote and progress horse racing, and with decreasing investment comes a myriad of problems for the sport.
The latest racecourse to break cover is Newbury, who have stated that they will be ‘carefully reviewing’ how they go about investing in prize money at their meetings. That’s due to concerns over falling income in the sport caused in part by the reduction in betting revenue and subsequent shop closures.
Newbury Holding Firm….For Now
The announcement was made in conjunction with the publication of their interim financial statement for the first half of 2019, which had delivered something of a ‘mixed bag’ performance.
Newbury have revealed they made an increase of 4% on their total media-related turnover for the same period in 2018, but that this was largely ‘attributable to increased licensed betting office revenues’.
Their overall operating loss totalled in excess of £300k, not aided by the loss of their Betfair Hurdle meeting in February in the midst of the equine flu outbreak, and without such a strong showing from the bookies, their situation would be rather more stark.
Newbury’s chairman, Dominic Burke, said:
“Whilst in the first half of the year we did not see any material decline in our LBO revenues, post April’s FOBT reform, this remains a significant risk as we move forwards.”
Burke also claimed that he and his board of directors believed that the rate of betting sop closures would ‘accelerate’ in the second half of 2019 and into next year.
“Because of this, the board will be carefully reviewing its prize-money investment over the coming period,” he confirmed.
Burke and the course’s representatives have spoken at length of their desire to maintain their current prize money level, around £5 million, into the 2019 season and beyond, but the uncertainty over high street betting revenue had left them no choice but to be more circumspect in their predictions.
It has left trainers fuming at their perceived lack of commitment to racing, with ARC and Newbury officials all coming under fire for their meagre offerings – one Listed race in August offered up a top prize of just £14,461 for the winner.
Indeed, the situation was so dire at Lingfield earlier in the year that trainers called a strike, boycotting the course’s ‘Winter Derby Day’ and leaving some races with just one or even no runners at all.
The trainer Phil McEntee had said:
“The prize money levels we are racing for in 2019 are simply not acceptable and I, for one, am absolutely delighted with what’s happened.”
Here’s hoping the prize money situation gets resolved before the quality of care to the only thing that matters here, the horses, deteriorates.