Coral in ‘Russian roulette’ warning ban

RACING’S major stakeholders would be playing a “game of Russian roulette” with sponsorship of the sport if they persevere with plans to prevent bookmakers from backing races unless they contribute more to the levy from their offshore business.

That was the view of Coral on Wednesday who celebrated the 40th year of their sponsorship of the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown this July and have backed the Welsh National at Chepstow for 43 years, as well as being one of the longest-standing commercial sponsors at the Cheltenham Festival.

The bookmakers were reacting to the news revealed by the Racing Post on Wednesday that the sport, led by the racecourses, was considering a bookmaker sponsorship ban as a way of forcing the betting industry to pay more from the £25 million and rising of income estimated to be lost offshore every year.

Discussions between racing’s stakeholders on the proposals are understood to be at an early stage with no details yet decided about how the policy would work.

Racing the loser

However, Coral’s PR director Simon Clare blasted the idea, saying racing would be the only loser.

Clare said: “The lack of specific detail, or indeed official comment, means we will have to wait for a response from our major racecourse partners to clarify whether there is indeed any truth to this.

“However, on first reading I find it very hard to believe racing is seriously considering pursuing such an ill-conceived and frankly reckless game of Russian roulette with the future of long-standing race sponsorships and the strong commercial relationships that currently exist between so many racecourses and betting sponsors, some of which, like the Coral-Eclipse and the Coral Welsh Grand National, have been built up over decades.

“There can only be one loser in this game, and it’s racing. On the one hand, horseracing sponsorship represents a very small share of most bookmakers’ total marketing spend and there is no shortage of alternative sports sponsorship opportunities for bookies to spend their money on to promote their brands and acquire customers just as effectively. Yet on the other hand racing has never had a queue of non-bookmaker sponsors beating down their door.”

Other firms were more reticent to comment. Paddy Power would only say they believed “all financial relationships with racing should be based on commercial arrangements”, while William Hill spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: “William Hill first sponsored racing in 1957 when the company became the first bookmaker to sponsor a significant race by financially supporting the Ebor. We have continued to sponsor races every year since.”

‘Levy leakage’ a problem

A statement from the BHA, understood to have the backing of the leading racecourse groups Arena Racing Company and the Jockey Club, did not deny or confirm discussions were taking place and, while the governing body reiterated that the money being lost from the levy was a major problem, it emphasised the importance of the betting industry to the sport.

A statement said: “The current levy leakage, with the vast majority of remote betting activity not being captured, causes real economic damage to British racing. However, we don’t comment on speculation and are happy to reinforce our long-standing position that betting firms are highly valued partners of our sport.”

Nigel Payne, chief executive of the Horseracing Sponsors Association, said: “I am attending the members committee of the BHA on Monday and I will be trying to find out exactly what the position is.

“Until such time as I know that I can’t make an official comment on behalf of sponsors. Suffice to say that bookmakers’ contribution to the prize-money pool is massive – probably 50 per cent of all sponsors’ contributions to prize money – and that’s an overriding concern.”

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