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Hopes of Early Levy Review Fade in Major Financial Blow for Racing

Houses of Parliament Across the Thames RiverA much-needed financial boost to horse racing’s coffers has been denied after the government ruled out bringing forward a review of the sport’s funding.

It had been hoped by many within the sport that reform of the Betting Levy, with new rules regarding the inclusion of bets placed overseas, would help to bring in upwards of £30 million at a time when punters remain barred from trackside – an integral source of revenue for racing. As things stand, bookmakers don’t have to factor bets placed internationally into their Levy calculations nor money wagered on ‘virtual’ racing markets.

Under the current legislation, the levy is scheduled to next be reviewed in 2024, but the minister for sport Nigel Huddleston had hinted in December that that could be brought forward by three years to help cope with the emergency situation that is unfolding.

Alas, the MP has made a confusing U-turn, telling the BHA that a review would be subject to an examination of ‘whether there was a case for bringing forward the timetable.’ That suggests a re-think of the levy remains off the table for now – an idea solidified by Huddleston himself at the tail end of last year, when he suggested that he was ‘not convinced’ that levy reform was necessary.

And after suggesting that the situation in foreign markets was not the same as in the UK, reports in the Racing Post show that he wrote to the BHA stating:

“For these reasons, I am not convinced that immediate reform of the levy, either temporary or otherwise, is the right way to respond to the financial difficulties faced by the racing industry.”

“I am aware that some stakeholders have reported that, during the [December] statement, I made a commitment to review the rate of the levy itself in 2021. To clarify, we intend at some point this year to look again at whether there is a case for bringing forward the timetable for the review of the levy due in 2024.”

Any Cause for Positivity?

Reform 2021 on Office Desk

The BHA are remaining upbeat, and statement from the organisation read:

“we look forward to continuing our dialogue with government, and providing further evidence which highlights the need for urgent reform of the levy to ensure that it is sustainable and fit for the digital age.

“In December, DCMS announced their intention that in 2021 they would re-examine the timescales for reviewing the Horserace Betting Levy. This has been reiterated to the BHA in a letter received yesterday.”

But the bottom line is that the levy is racing’s sole source of income until on-course punters return, and with more wintry weather expected in the coming days – with cancellations likely – the sport is said to take another hit.

There are those who believe a review of the levy is long overdue. It was last looked at in 2017, when a small change was made to include offshore bookmakers’ revenue in the calculation, but the sport has evolved since then – nobody saw the pandemic coming, that’s a given – and it would be hoped that the government’s promise of reviewing the legislation to ‘ensure it reflects any future changes in the market’ would now be applied given the dire situation racing finds itself in.

A steering group of key figures in British racing has been created to discuss possible options for levy reform, with BHA board member Joe Saumarez Smith set to report these to the organisation’s members’ committee imminently.