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    The Impact of a Labour Government on Racing
The Impact of a Labour Government on Racing
Keir Starmer: The Labour leader and next prime minister. Source: BBC News

The Impact of a Labour Government on Racing

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has been preparing for a potential change in government for several months, building relationships with relevant shadow ministers and emphasizing the industry's economic importance, especially in rural areas. Few could have predicted that betting and the Gambling Commission would become such prominent topics following the general election in May, nor that Keir Starmer would mention his preference for betting on horses.

Election and Political Shift

As the Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, secured a significant majority, the focus on betting and horse racing from the new administration seems minimal. The Labour manifesto mentions football but not horse racing, and references to gambling are confined to a paragraph discussing reducing gambling-related harm and reforming gambling regulations.

The previous government's reforms to the 2005 Labour government's Gambling Act are still in progress, with a pilot scheme for affordability checks on punters set to begin soon. Racing's efforts to reform the Levy system for increased income are likely to be deprioritised amid other pressing political issues.

Starmer’s Connection to Racing

Starmer has a personal connection to horse racing through his wife, Victoria, who grew up in Doncaster, home to the St Leger. Despite this, Labour's immediate focus is on broader issues, and racing will need to assert its economic and cultural value to gain attention from the new government.

BHA’s Strategic Moves

The BHA has proactively engaged with shadow ministers and highlighted the industry's significance, particularly in job creation and rural economies. However, they recognize the need to resolve issues with the gambling industry independently if possible, to avoid relying on political intervention. The political shift coincides with many top positions in the sport becoming available, potentially offering opportunities for ex-MPs and ministers.

Dido Harding is set to become the first female senior steward of the Jockey Club, while former health secretary Matt Hancock, who has ties to Newmarket racecourse, has been mentioned as a possible future chair of the BHA.

Dido Harding. Source: The New European
Dido Harding. Source: The New European

Impact of Political Change

With the cost-of-living crisis impacting attendance at major events, an economic revival under a new government could benefit racing. Key events like Cheltenham, Aintree, and Epsom will need to work hard to draw back crowds, but a general sense of optimism and economic growth could make this task easier.

Labour's Influence on Racing and Betting

The Labour victory changes the political landscape for British racing. Many of its parliamentary supporters have either retired or lost their seats. While observers do not foresee hostility towards racing from Labour, the sport must advocate for its value to secure priority in the new government's agenda. A tougher stance on gambling regulation from Labour could also impact racing finances.

New Leadership and Policies

The new sports minister and culture secretary are expected to be appointed soon, with Stephanie Peacock, the former shadow minister for media, gambling, and sport, potentially retaining her role. Thangam Debonnaire's loss of her seat complicates the culture secretary position, with Lisa Nandy now taking on the role, bringing her connection to the UK Tote Group.

Thangam Debonnaire. Source: The Critic Magazine
Thangam Debonnaire. Source: The Critic Magazine

Racing’s Parliamentary Supporters

Despite the loss of some key supporters, racing retains allies like Priti Patel and George Freeman. Nick Timothy, replacing Hancock in West Suffolk, is aware of the importance of racing to his constituency. Rupert Lowe, a racehorse owner, also won a seat for Reform.

Affordability Checks and Gambling White Paper

The implementation of affordability checks and recommendations from the previous government’s gambling white paper have been delayed by the election. Trials for 'frictionless' affordability checks are set to begin soon, and discussions on Levy reform might not resume until autumn.

Industry Reactions

The BHA has congratulated Labour on their victory, with CEO Julie Harrington urging the new government to support racing. Despite some criticism for not engaging better with Labour, Harrington emphasized continued constructive engagement.

Julie Harrington. Source: The Telegraph
Julie Harrington. Source: The Telegraph

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) welcomed Labour’s victory and their commitment to responsible gambling. BGC chair Michael Dugher highlighted the industry's dedication to working with Labour to implement balanced regulatory changes that protect the vulnerable while allowing responsible betting.

In conclusion, British horse-racing faces a new political environment with Labour's victory, requiring strategic advocacy to ensure its interests are addressed amid broader governmental priorities.


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