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Dear MP: Read and weep

Someone passed me a letter today which had the following cover note. I have scrubbed out any identifying markings:

Dear XXXX,

I represent the Horsemen’s Group on the team running the Racing United Campaign for a Fair Levy so I am writing to ask for your help.

I’m sure you will agree it is vital that we all do everything we can to persuade the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, to make a decision over the 50th Levy Scheme that delivers a fair return for racing from the betting industry. The next few weeks are critical. Racing has asked the Secretary of State to make a quick decision so we can get on with planning our sport. We need to ask as many of our contacts at Westminsterto explain to the Government how important this decision is for racing and how many businesses and jobs depend on it.

I would be immensely grateful if you would insert the relevant details where shown into the attached letter and send it on your headed paper as soon as possible to your MP, who is XXXXX, MP for XXXX. Please let me know if you do not have his address and I will find out for you.

Many thanks for your help. If you need to ask me anything, please don’t hesitate to call.

The letter itself read as follows (but this time the bits scrubbed out were in the original, to be filled in accordingly by those in racing to whom the draft letter and cover note has been sent):

Dear XXX

Will Lambe from the British Horseracing Authority has recently written to you about our industry wide campaign for a Fair Levy, Racing United ( I wanted to add to his thoughts by emphasising that the falling Levy yield will impact heavily on XXXX (name of place) specifically.

We believe that bookmakers and betting exchanges (like Betfair) are exploiting loopholes in the ageing Levy Act (of 1963). Their actions have driven down the amount the betting industry pays each year to directly support our business whilst at the same time their profits have soared.

The situation we face can be summed up by looking at William Hill publicly saying that betting exchanges are costing racing tens of millions in levy payments, while the exchanges point back and note betting operators going offshore also costing tens of millions. They are both right but, while they argue among themselves, it is Racing that is losing out significantly.

We are now at a crucial point as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is currently determining the next Levy scheme and policies about its future.  Our aim is for him to close the loopholes that have caused the central funding for British Horseracing to drop by more than a third in two years from £115m in 2008 to just £75m in 2010 – with further dramatic falls to less than £60m to come unless action is taken.

The Secretary of State has stated his commitment to ensuring fair funding to racing from the betting industry “from as broad a base as possible” and we need your support in helping him and the Minister for Sport and Olympics do this quickly.

Any help you can give us, either by writing to Jeremy Hunt or Hugh Robertson or speaking with them in person, would be very much appreciated. If you would like further information, I can be contacted by email (xxxxxxxxxx) or by phone on xxxxxxxxx and I would be very happy to brief you personally about the role of the Levy locally in xxxxxxxxxx.

Best wishes,


The fact that it was sent to me tells you a pretty clear story: the constituents of racing seem more aware than their leaders of the extent to which their sport is being made to look foolish. They seem to understand that, on so many levels, correspondence like this does more to set racing’s cause back than it does advance it. As so often before, you have to wonder if the people making the decisions for Racing are being poorly advised, or are just refusing to take any sensible advice that they are being given.

I think there is little point in my outlining for readers of this blog the faults in the letter itself. Lines like ‘their actions have driven down the amount the betting industry pays each year to directly support our business whilst at the same time their profits have soared’ are one opinionated side of a story for which the counter-arguments are well-rehearsed. What is interesting is, first, that racing should be asking its constituents to send such views now, when those counter-arguments have little time to be heard by those receiving the letter; and second, the arrogance of therefore apparently believing that doing so will see the recipient immediately beating an irate path to the door of DCMS (or indeed telephone or e-mail the sender).

It is a week since the Secretary of State publicly announced how he will decide on the levy for the coming year, after the failure of the two sides of the argument (racing and the bookies) to come to an agreement: he wants to hear from the Government-Appointed Members of the Levy Board by 26th November. After that, he will allow the two sides to let him know their views ahead of 31st December, and he will make a decision thereafter.

To say that it is late, therefore, to be trying to organise a campaign from MPs at the grass roots is something of an understatement. Even if you assume, for a brief moment of insanity, that any MP is going to react to a letter which gives so little supporting evidence and march in to see the Secretary of State or Minister completely unprepared to argue for something that they know absolutely nothing about, they would have to react pretty quick smartish.

The above note was sent to people yesterday, 17th November. Give them a day to get around to reading it and maybe a week to react and get the requested letter in the post, and it will arrive with the MPs in their constituencies (as the steer seems to be that it ought to be sent, which is odd in itself) in time for them to return there next Friday at the earliest. Not to labour the point, but that means it’s December before anything can happen, and the House rises on 21st. MPs with little or no previous interest in the subject in question, who hear from someone they have never heard from before about a topic which (at best) they might be vaguely aware is the subject of a commercial spat, are then expected inside three weeks to knock on the door of a department they have no history of interacting with in order to make comments on a subject on which they have one page of patchy information.

It seems to me, traditionalist though I no doubt am, that before going to collar the Secretary of State, most MPs would want to get themselves properly briefed. (You might even argue, in these days of transparency, that they would want to hear both sides of a case before committing themselves; but let us not credit them with even-handedness, and assume instead that they want no more than to be armed with information to fight racing’s good fight.). Even in those circumstances, I would be surprised if they didn’t want a meeting to hear a little more than is contained in the single page above.

Given the timescale, though, a meeting will be impossible for most. What any MP is therefore likely to want to do, even if he or she is maximally compliant and keen to promote the racing line, is to gain a little more knowledge from a colleague who is up-to-speed on the issues. Very few are. And one of the very few was the subject of an enormous public tirade at the hands of the BHA’s Chairman only last Friday. Let’s hope people don’t seek him out, at least.

To be honest, if it wasn’t depressing, it would be funny. Somewhere, lurking under the reams of paper and mounds of words, there’s an argument that needs to be made, but Racing’s leaders are not making it. Instead, and probably as a result, they are losing support by the day. The very fact that I have a copy of the letter they have sent their constituents, forwarded with a little note asking “have they gone mad?” must show that. ‘Racing United’ is self-evidently anything but.

Posted in Betfair, Regulation.

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3 Responses

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  1. Davidd says

    I have no insight into the Parliamentary process that Racing is trying to influence, but I do have a strong opinion about the complete lack of integrity which is evident from this “call to arms”. To call it misleading or disingenuous doesn’t do it justice; it is fundamentally dishonest on (at least) two counts:

    1. It parrots William Hill’s “Levy shortfall of tens of millions caused by exchanges” claim, in full knowledge that this is a bogus claim. Page 6 of the submission linked to directly below exposes the fundamental flaws in this claim. The same submission also points out that Racing’s own submission to the same Levy Board consultation, completely discredits the William Hill claim, a claim which Racing is now citing with approval.

    2. The claim that “exchanges are claiming that offshore bookie are costing the Levy a similarly [bogus] sum” was debunked by a Betfair letter published in the Racing Post last Sunday. It is a transparent effort to “divide and conquer” the betting industry.

    No one can criticise Racing for fighting its corner, but to do so in a manner so completely lacking in integrity is pitiful. The recipients of this missive are being incited to write a letter to their local MP, which those behind the campaign know contains untruths. They are risking making fools of the letter writers, and of any MP reckless enough to take up Racing’s cause off the back of the letter.

  2. MD says

    Davidd – yes, I agree. I didn’t think I would go into the ins and outs of why the letter itself is disingenuous. It is clear that there is much in it that can be picked apart – which is why I find it interesting (a) that Racing should try to sneak it in, in the hope that at least one person might, bizarrely, take it at face value and act on it, and (b) that some of its constituents clearly recognise that and don’t want to be made to look like turkeys.

  3. montjeu says

    I don’t know why, but your last couple of posts have reminded me of that Sun headline: “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.” Right now, that sentiment seems to resonate for British racing.

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