Bookies and racing representatives meet for key ABP funding talks

• Percentage of layers’ online profits to be shared with sport under discussion
• Non Authorised Betting Partner firms are blocked from new sponsorship deals

Senior figures from the major bookmaking firms will return for another round of funding negotiations with horse racing’s representatives on Tuesday, intrigued by the possibility of some movement on the racing side. But expectations are low and executives on the betting side of the fence insisted on Monday night that no deal could be done on the terms now being offered by the sport’s leaders.

“It could all be a big anticlimax or it might be the next big thing,” was the view of one betting figure. “To be honest, I’d be stunned if this time tomorrow you were writing about a deal being done. More likely, we’ll be back to an impasse. Or it could be the start of some more talking, that would be the second-favourite.”

The main point of discussion will be the percentage of bookmakers’ online profits that should be shared with racing. Ladbrokes, William Hill, Coral, Paddy Power and others have been unable to come to terms with the sport on this subject, with the result that they have been denied Authorised Betting Partner status and are therefore prevented from doing new sponsorship deals with many major racecourses. Betfair, Bet365 and 32Red, on the other hand, have achieved ABP status under the terms of a scheme devised by Nick Rust, the BHA’s new chief executive.

“We’ve come up with a lot of analogies but the latest one is, it’s like we’re not being allowed into our favourite pub,” said an executive with one of the non-ABP firms.

“As things stand, it’s hard to see how we could become an ABP but who knows? It looks like the British Horseracing Authority have been briefing the racing media, which suggests there might be more to this meeting than has perhaps been anticipated.

“The cost of racing is going up but we all want to be a part of it. I don’t think anyone wants to walk away from racing. But there are more sports than ever trying to get that sponsorship money and once it’s gone, it’ll take years to come back.”

“The good news is, if these talks work and we find a way forward, lasting damage has been averted,” said a spokesman for another firm. “In all the time I’ve been in racing, the one thing that’s always happened when there have been major bust-ups at the top level is that we’ve generally managed to keep the relationship going at the level below. But this has caused a lot of pain because we’ve built up great relationships with tracks where we’ve sponsored for years and now we’re being told that we’re not wanted. No one’s going to sign up at the rates they’re proposing. There has to be some give and take.”

BHA officials would not acknowledge that any talks are to take place, far less discuss who might have leaked the fact. One insisted that the BHA remained committed to the ratecard for ABP status that was published in December, which he said represented a “fair return” to racing from betting , or at least an acceptable return while offshore firms are not required by law to pay racing a share of their online profits. However, there also appears to be acceptance that the ratecard is not the only possible solution to the present impasse and the BHA wants to be seen as being at least willing to explore other ways forward with any bookmaker who wishes to talk.

The BHA spent part of Monday closing its file on the former jockey Darren Egan, which it found guilty in November of stopping two horses so that an accomplice could profit by betting against them. Egan, who denied the charges in a newspaper interview days after the guilty verdict, has now been banned from the sport for 12 years.

A BHA statement said Egan had sent an email acknowledging that he knew what he was doing was wrong but that “I needed the money desperately”.


Chris Cook

The GuardianTramp

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