Martin Cruddace: Why a strong horseracing sector is a vital part of the fabric of this country

8 Mar

Martin Cruddace is the CEO of Arena Racing Company who owns and operates 16 racecourses in Great Britain. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.

It is difficult to find anyone in the betting or horseracing industries who does not welcome the Government’s Gambling Review. It is sixteen years since the passing of the 2005 Gambling Act and a fresh look at how the regulated betting and gaming industry has evolved over that period is overdue.

I have always believed that legislation and regulation have to strive to reach a sweet spot whereby the right balance is struck between welcome measures that protect the vulnerable but not unnecessarily restricting the vast majority of customers wishing to have the freedom to enjoy a flutter responsibly.

There has always been a symbiotic relationship between betting and horseracing in Britain. The Betting and Gaming Council reports that its members contribute £350m to racing through sponsorship, media rights, and the betting levy. More widely, British racing is a £4.1 billion, world-leading industry, generating over £300m a year directly in taxation, with over 80,000 relying on the sport for employment.

There are many millions more who enjoy the sport as a hobby, watching live on TV, taking a day out with family and friends, or possibly even with an investment in racehorse ownership. A great many of these will enjoy a bet whilst they do so, in a manner that is both responsible and safe.

It is imperative that before considering the implementation of amended legislation, the Government undertakes an impact assessment on what any proposed changes will do to those people and the sport of horseracing in this country – a sport which faces increasing competition from other international jurisdictions.

Without doubt, I have seen enormous efforts by the betting industry to improve its measures to tackle the issue of problem gambling, but more can, and I am sure will, be done. It is however encouraging that the latest Gambling Commission survey shows that the rate of problem gambling remains low at 0.3 per cent of the adult population, down from 0.6 per cent 18 months ago.

Customers should be able to exclude by product and time of day. They are currently able to take breaks and set deposit and loss limits (by day, week, month, or year). But the betting industry needs to be grown up and realise that it is only as a strong as its weakest link. Skipping on responsible gambling safeguards cannot ever be for a competitive advantage.

In recent months I have listened to calls by some for stringent, arbitrary limits to be placed on how much individuals should be allowed to bet. From personal experience, and from the lived experience of those I have spoken to, I believe that such an approach shows a basic misunderstanding of the behaviour of a punter. It would severely limit, and possibly push away, responsible consumers, whilst not offering the adequate protections for those that need them.

It is clear that, with appropriate use, technology is both the operators’ and lawmakers’ friend in assessing various markers of harm. I urge the betting industry to continue the impressive progress made so far.

For example, whilst I might pass any financial or affordability check, these are not the only markers of harm already tracked and a sudden change of behaviour from my usual recreational betting on horseracing, football or golf to night time games of poker or casino products would raise a marker of potential harm and warrant attention.

I have previously stated that, if the numbers of punters forgoing betting on British racing due to previously mooted and completely arbitrary ‘affordability’ limits are accurate, it would have a disastrous effect on the finances of the sport and obvious repercussions for the 80,000 employed within it. Conservative estimates put the figure at £60 million per annum, which I think could stretch up to £100 million, depending on the exactitudes of the legislation.

These are figures that an industry which, despite astute management throughout the crisis of the last two years, can ill afford.

I appreciate that there are those that think these figures, and similarly the estimates of the size and threat of the black market, may be over-inflated. They may be right. However, I remain deeply concerned that measures that inadvertently push people in that direction could soon turn from a trickle to a flood. Sadly, this is where technology is very much not our friend, as it enables all-too-easy access to illegally-operated sites.

Having made these points, however, and after listening carefully to guests of the All-Party Gambling Related Harm Group, I believe that there is a very strong case for introducing, right now, industry-supported financial limits for those under the age of 25. I believe that those cohorts are of particular risk and therefore it is prudent to set limits.

We applaud those operators that have already put these measures in place, but the industry must continue to develop these systems of internal checks and monitoring of customers.

Horseracing is one of Britain’s major success stories. The history and heritage of the sport, combined with the world-leading breeding and race programme, is something of which we as a nation should be proud. Having a bet is part of our national culture. All of those involved in the review of the Gambling Act must be cognisant of how their decisions over the coming months will potentially, even inadvertently, damage an industry that provides so much for so many.

Yes, our industry can have disagreements. But nearly everyone involved has a deep passion for horseracing. A strong and vibrant horseracing industry is part of the fabric of the culture of this country, and the Government must ensure that is not damaged. It does not have to be.