Racing should not be afraid to back curb on gaming machines

Charlie Brooks
Gaming machines are big money in betting shops

As we’re still in the ‘reflections on Cheltenham’ season, I had intended to recall my conversation with broadcaster John Inverdale at the Festival; but events have over taken me.

Merely a day after our chat, Inverdale was commentating on the infamous France/Wales rugby game, when he suggested that the Duchess of Cambridge, like 90 per cent of everyone else watching, was perhaps slightly bemused by the length of ‘extra-time’ being played. He also referred to her as Kate.

We were then led to believe that public opinion was outraged by his remarks on two fronts. Firstly, it was sexist to assume that she doesn’t know the rules of rugby that apply to this extraordinary sequence of events. And secondly, it was disrespectful to refer to her as Kate.

But public opinion was thinking no such thing. 

Had Inverdale been commentating on a lacrosse match and the cameras had focused on Prince William, no doubt he would have thrown away a similar remark and it would have gone unnoticed. As for calling the Duchess of Cambridge Kate, I find it very unlikely that she or her very grounded parents, who used to be tennis opponents of mine, would take exception to that. After all, Prince William’s mother is still affectionately known as plain Diana, not the Princess of Wales.

This is all relevant to racing, because it is genuine public opinion that matters, not unrepresentative and highly manipulative Twitter noise. And public opinion is firmly against the gambling machines in betting shops that are under review by the Government.

The bookmakers, who incidentally will probably contest the new Levy legislation that will pass through the House of Commons this week, are trying to persuade racecourses to support their case that it will be bad for racing if the cut on maximum stake of £100 a spin on the gaming machines is too draconian. It is likely to fall to between £20 and £2.

But ask yourself this question. If you had a teenage child that enjoyed going into a betting shop to back the odd horse from time to time, would you want them planted in front of what used to be called ‘Fruit Machines’ feeding £20 notes into them?

There was a time when these machines emptied the loose change out of your pocket – which was harmless enough. They are now emptying people’s bank accounts, which is not.

Unless you were a very addictive gambler, why would it be healthy to monotonously pump £50 notes into a machine such as this every few seconds? Unless you were laundering ill-gotten gains, which I suppose may be a possibility?

The threat to racing from the bookmakers is that if the profits from these machines go, betting shops will close. As bookmakers pay for live racing pictures shop by shop, this will reduce racing’s revenue.

Well racing existed before these machines propped up betting shops, and it will carry on after they have been curbed. And it should not be beyond the wit of racing to develop other income streams to compensate for the loss of some betting shop TV and data rights.

If racing wants to avoid a public opinion disaster – and a complete loss of credibility in the corridors of Westminster – it should stand firm in not supporting any level of stake on the gambling machines to preserve betting shops which, in some cases, were only opened to house these machines and not to promote racing.

This government has seen racing right by delivering a fair Levy scheme that has stopped the bookmakers abusing the Gibraltar offshore Levy loophole. Racing must not reciprocate by getting involved in some lobbying game that makes it difficult for the Government to do what is morally right to the gaming machines.

There were ramifications at the Festival as a result of their booze cut down. In the Guinness village, there were none of those cardboard carriers to put your pints in. So my tweed suit now has a brown hue to it and it smells quite bad.

My mother also had problems. When she charged the bar in the Jockey Club hollering for a tray of whiskey macs, the barman had to call his supervisor. He’d never heard of such a drink.

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