Database Rights Ruling Hinders BHB Plan

The British Horseracing Board's future funding strategy was thrown into disarray when the European Court of Justice Nov. 9 ruled in favor of bookmaker William Hill's challenge over database rights.

Despite confident statements from British racing's ruling body, chairman Martin Broughton revealed Nov. 15 it was a 3-1 or 4-1 chance to have the Court of Appeal overrule the European judgment. The Court of Appeal is expected to come to a decision within six months and, if it agrees with the Court of Justice ruling, the BHB's blueprint for the commercial replacement of the levy system is likely to be doomed.

"This time a week ago, you could have got 50-1 against the bookmakers winning at the ECJ," Broughton said. "We are not favorites, but I believe we have a much better chance than that at the Court of Appeal. The ECJ was asked by the Court of Appeal to look at 11 specific questions in a new area of law, but it went further than it was asked to.

"Our case, in simple terms, is that the Court 0f Appeal has no choice but to accept the ECJ's guidance on the law, but that when the Court of Appeal applies the facts to the BHB case, it will come to a different conclusion."

The BHB has based its financial strategy on replacing the current levy system--a percentage of bookmakers' gross profits--with a commercial system based on payments for use of data. That's slightly different than database rights, according to the BHB.

The BHB persuaded the government to start the process of abolishing the levy system, but will request it be continued for the time being so payments to racing are safeguarded. The current uncertainty will delay implementation of the BHB's modernization of racing program. It also could affect expansion of racecourse fixtures in 2006 and the British Jockey Club's transfer of its disciplinary functions to an independent body.