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    Horseracing Industry: Government Assistance and Recent Trends
Horseracing Industry: Government Assistance and Recent Trends
BHA logo. Source: Paulic Report

Horseracing Industry: Government Assistance and Recent Trends

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) serves as the regulatory body for horseracing in Britain. In a 2020 report, the BHA highlighted that horseracing ranked as the second-largest sport after football in terms of attendance, employment, and annual revenue generation. They revealed that in 2019, 5.62 million people participated in over 1,500 race meetings across the UK. The BHA estimated the sport’s annual contribution to the British economy to be £4.1 billion through direct, indirect, and related expenditures, with a significant portion of this value originating from rural areas. The industry directly employs 20,000 individuals across racecourses, training yards, and breeding operations.

The horserace betting levy funds the grassroots level of the horseracing industry. Established in the 1960s to address concerns that legalising betting shops might reduce racecourse attendance, the levy is managed by the Horserace Betting Levy Board. This board operates without government or national lottery funding, deriving its income from a percentage of bookmakers' gross profits on British horserace betting. Legally, the board must collect and utilise the levy to improve horseracing. In the fiscal year 2021–22, the levy generated £97.6 million, an increase from £82 million the previous year when the sport was affected by Covid restrictions.

The levy underwent its last review in 2017, which expanded its scope to include foreign bookmakers accepting bets on British racing and set a fixed rate of 10% on leviable operator profits. A subsequent review is planned for 2024. Additional details are available in the House of Commons Library briefing on the levy.

The Covid pandemic, like in many other sports, impacted horseracing attendance. The Horserace Betting Levy Board's statistics for 2022 showed that 4.8 million people attended racing events, approaching the pre-pandemic figures from 2019. Nonetheless, there have been ongoing concerns about declining attendance even before the pandemic. In 2020, the Racing Post noted a "downward trend" in attendance since 2015. They also highlighted the issue of prize money, which compares unfavourably with other countries and may affect the competitiveness of UK horseracing. Reports indicate that some British trainers are turning to other markets, such as Saudi Arabia, for more lucrative prizes.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay. Source: The Guardian
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay. Source: The Guardian

Government Support

In November 2022, the House of Lords conducted a debate on the horseracing industry. During this discussion, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, the government minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), recognised the "significant contribution" of horseracing to the economy, especially in rural regions. He noted that the racing sector had benefited from the government's "economy-wide support for jobs and rates relief" during the Covid pandemic. Additionally, he mentioned that government assistance had been extended through the sports survival package, which provided loans to live sports events affected by Covid restrictions. The minister highlighted that a "£21.5 million loan was given to the levy board to offer additional support" to racecourses and reaffirmed the government's commitment to supporting British horseracing and associated businesses.

In January 2023, the government was questioned in writing about the measures being taken to promote horseracing and breeding on an international scale. Paul Scully, the DCMS minister, pointed to the forthcoming review of the betting levy in 2024, stating that the government would collaborate with stakeholders to ensure the "benefits of the horserace betting levy are maximised" for the industry. Mr Scully also mentioned that the sports economy team within the Department for Trade and Industry was "actively engaging" with the industry to explore international markets and attract "international investors into the British thoroughbred market."

Horse racing. Source: Midjourney
Horse racing. Source: Midjourney

Progress so far

Horseracing has long been intertwined with betting, raising concerns within the industry about the potential consequences of any changes to UK gambling legislation.

The Gambling Act 2005 governs gambling in the UK. Recently, growing worries have emerged regarding the increase in online gambling and associated issues like problem gambling and related harms. In response, Boris Johnson's administration initiated a review of the 2005 Act in 2020. The current government addressed this review in a gambling white paper released in April 2023, proposing various reforms.

When presenting the white paper in the House of Commons, Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, stated that the advent of the internet and smartphones had "transformed" gambling, making the temptation to gamble ubiquitous in society. She acknowledged that gambling remained a "hugely popular pastime" with the "vast majority" participating safely. However, she noted that it could lead to addiction and other harm for some individuals. Consequently, the white paper outlined several areas for reform:

- Online gambling

- Marketing, advertising, and sponsorship

- The Gambling Commission’s authority and resources

- Dispute resolution and consumer redress

- Protection of children and young adults

- Land-based gambling, such as casinos and the availability of gaming machines

The white paper’s proposed reforms for online gambling introduced new responsibilities for operators to conduct financial risk checks when a customer’s gambling behaviour appears unaffordable and potentially harmful. The document identified three specific risk categories: binge gambling, significant unaffordable losses over time, and financially vulnerable customers. The exact details of the policy would be determined through consultations by the Gambling Commission. However, the white paper suggested the following system of checks:

Initially, background checks should be performed at moderate spending levels to identify indicators of financial vulnerability, such as county court judgments. These checks should occur at a net loss of £125 within a month or £500 within a year. Secondly, for higher spending levels that may suggest harmful binge gambling or sustained unaffordable losses (with proposed thresholds of £1,000 net loss within 24 hours or £2,000 within 90 days), a more detailed assessment of the customer’s financial status should be conducted.

The white paper acknowledged the "significant contribution that horseracing makes to British sporting culture" and assured that measures like financial risk checks would not negatively impact the sector.

The document also provided financial impact estimates of its proposals on the horseracing sector, projecting a reduction of £5–£8 million (6–11%) in the online component of the horserace betting levy. It also anticipated a possible decline in "gambling sponsorship and media rights" due to reduced operator income. In the gambling review, the horseracing industry reported a total annual income of £1.47 billion in 2022. The white paper estimated that the proposed reforms would reduce the total racing industry income by "between 0.5% and 1%".

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