British Betting Deal Touted by Participants

Considering the entrenched and antagonistic stances, the April 17 agreement for the right of the main British bookmakers to bet on British racing beginning May 1 was remarkable.

Suddenly both sides--the British Horseracing Board, led by much-attacked Peter Savill, and the main bookmaking figures, William Hill's John Brown and Ladbroke's Chris Bell--who started court actions and competition authority investigations, were happy and predicting prosperity for all.

The BHB headlined the deal on data rights as being worth £600 million over five years, though reading the small print shows that it depends on all significant bookmakers in Britain and Ireland signing up for the deal. In the first year, £110 million is set to be delivered, with £120 million or above in the subsequent four years.

The agreement is initially between the BHB and the five biggest off-course bookmakers --Ladbrokes, William Hill, Coral, Stanley, and Done--who will pay 10% of their gross profits on UK horse racing betting turnover.

The major bookmaker currently outside the agreement is the Tote, which also has the monopoly on horse pari-mutuel betting in Britain, while hundreds of small independents with betting shops, who want more concessions, are being sent the agreement. Negotiations with Irish-based bookmakers are ongoing.

Said Savill: "This is an historic day for the British racing and betting industries. We have agreed a long-term deal which will enable us to put aside our previous differences and work together to develop British Racing as a sport with an increasing appeal to punters, spectators, viewers, and those who work in the industry. I have no doubt that this new prosperity for racing will touch every facet of the sport."

However, the negotiations were very tough, and the BHB only achieved a 1% increase on the government's levy determination in January, which delivered 9% of gross profits. The BHB said the levy, which the commercial negotiations are set to replace, raised £65 million last year. This year, it was due to deliver between £90 and £105 million from just British bookmakers.

Therefore, while racing has gained something, it is not nearly as much as some expected or indeed had forecast. A significant part of the deal is that the bookmakers drop all legal challenges to the BHB's rights and withdraw complaints to competition authorities.

"I am very pleased that a data deal, which I believe to be fair to both industries, has been achieved," Brown said. "I am confident that the relationship between racing and betting will now flourish."

The final part of the new rights jigsaw is for the 49 racecourses, which offer the bulk of British racing, to secure a pictures agreement with the bookmakers. The deadline is May 1.