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    Rishi Sunak Vs Racing Industry
Rishi Sunak Vs Racing Industry

Rishi Sunak Vs Racing Industry

Unknown to them at the time, the man who appeared at the doorstep of Catterick Racecourse would later become the Prime Minister. Rishi Sunak, a former investment banker and Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Richmond in North Yorkshire, was poised to replace William Hague as the constituency's Member of Parliament. Sunak visited Catterick to meet the people he would soon represent, including Fiona Needham, the clerk of the course, and James Sanderson, the track's chief executive. Discussions centred around racing and its structure. Sunak demonstrated his support for the sport once more by engaging with trainers in Middleham before  the 2015 general election.

As Chancellor, Sunak continued to show his interest in racing, attending events and opening new facilities. However, his administration's plans to implement affordability checks, stemming from the Gambling Commission, have caused concern within the racing community. These checks, despised by punters and projected to cost British racing £50 million annually, have prompted over 100,000 racing fans to sign a petition calling for a parliamentary debate on the issue. The debate will take place on February 26. The government has assured that the most stringent checks will only be implemented with minimal disruption, but the timing of such a mechanism remains uncertain, especially with a general election on the horizon.

Image Source: Midjourney

Opinion polls suggest that the upcoming election may lead to Sunak's departure from Downing Street. Some of the votes he lost were from his racing electorate. Trainers in Middleham, such as Mark Johnston and Jedd O'Keeffe, have expressed concerns about the impact of affordability checks on racing. They argue that the proposed checks discourage ownership and hinder the industry's growth. O'Keeffes, who have faced their own challenges due to the pandemic, emphasise the need to support and encourage people's involvement in racing.

Others in the racing community echo these concerns. Keith Johnson, a prominent racecourse bookmaker and resident of Sunak's constituency, warns of the potential consequences of affordability checks, including reduced levy income, decreased prize money, and a decline in the number of horses in training and owners. Paul Jackson, a former professional at Richmond Golf Club, stresses the importance of personal freedom in spending one's own income and questions the need for state interference in gambling. Jo Vickers, manager of the independent bookmaking firm Vickers, believes that affordability checks will drive punters towards illegal gambling.

Catterick Racecourse's chief executive, James Sanderson, predicts a bleak future for racecourses if these checks are implemented. He highlights the financial decline already experienced by operators and the potential loss of 25% of their income if the projected £50 million cost to racing materialises. Sanderson urges Sunak to recognize that the issue lies not with racing but with problem gambling and argues against using a sledgehammer approach that could cause collateral damage.

Image Source: Midjourney

In response to these concerns, a government spokesperson from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport defends the proposed affordability checks, stating that they aim to protect individuals from significant gambling losses. They argue that the current financial risk checks conducted by the industry lack consistency and efficiency, requiring a more streamlined process. However, this response has done little to alleviate the anxieties and frustrations felt by the racing community, which remains united in their opposition to the checks.

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