I am forever telling punters to use on course bookmakers when they go racing. Don’t be stood there, pint in one hand and your mobile in the other. Don’t be betting with one of the big online bookies using one of their Apps. You are at the races so bloody well use an on course bookie, writes Vernon Grant.
I don’t care that a wealthy big firm located off shore is making you some special offer or other. Don’t be comparing their odds with the on course bookies in front of you. Enter into the spirit of going racing and use one or more of the men and women of the turf who are right there, under your nose.
My successful mission may be to finish each year ahead of the bookie, but I still love betting with an independent on course turf accountant.
Why? It’s tradition, that’s why. It’s the right thing to do. It’s one of the few aspects of going racing that the powers that be haven’t cocked up. Until now. Never has there been a time when it is more important to save the on course bookmakers from extinction.
Make no mistake about it. The pandemic and the continuing absence of punters from racecourses may result in many a traditional family bookmaking outfit going under. You’ll miss them when they’re gone. I know I will. Walking up and down their stands is, for me at least, part of the magic of a day at the races. In all weathers, there they are, taking your bets and paying out your winnings in fast fashion. Not for them a warm, dry office, canteen and tax free shopping in Gibraltar.
In the past couple of weeks I have been reading about and hearing from those those whose very livelihood has been placed under threat by the ridiculous change of mind at 10 Downing Street. One that brought an abrupt end to successful pilot schemes which permitted limited numbers of people to attend the races, including the first day of the St. Leger meeting at Doncaster. The course put so much effort into protecting the safety of those attending. So much time, energy and money had been invested and those who run and work at the course got it right. Only to see the government backtrack yet again and abandon the experiment just as it looked as though racecourses had found the solution to a problem.
So now you have a daft situation whereby racecourses such as Chepstow and Wetherby are not allowed to have members of the public attend the racecourse for racing on a Saturday, but hundreds can go to the same venues the next day for a car boot sale. Anyone who has ever wasted a Sunday going to one of them will know how crowded and cramped they can become.
Please click on the link below and sign this petition to persuade the government to allow spectators back into racecourses. Before some of those courses close for good. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/553455 The petition requires 10.000 signatures for the government to respond and we’re not there yet.
Why is this important? Read below this open letter from Paul and Lyn Garritty. One of the many independent bookies under threat.
From Lyn and Paul Garritty
It is now more than seven months since we were able to work on-course and it has become clear over the past couple of weeks, that we are no nearer to staging a return.
We understand that the various Bookmakers Associations are working hard behind the scenes on our behalf but it is frustrating that since March we have received very little feedback.
It seems we are being forced to wait because the government is keeping up appearance to the public without any specific evidence why it is not deemed safe for us to trade. Much of this stems from the bad publicity surrounding the fact that the Cheltenham Festival went ahead as planned in March along with many other major sporting events. Since then, no evidence has come to light that the Festival, or indeed football and rugby matches for that matter, had a significant effect on the spread of the virus. So why are we not doing more as an industry to fight our corner and set this myth straight?
The BHA and the RCA insist they are doing everything in their power to facilitate a return of crowds at the earliest opportunity. However, it feels as though they are more concerned with preserving the Behind Closed Doors status. This is despite many racecourses making it quite clear that without the paying public they are not financially viable.
There is no consistency in the regulations as to what is deemed safe and what is not. Despite the obvious success of the two pilots events held at Doncaster and Warwick, where it was proved beyond doubt that restricted audiences can safely attend race meetings – we find ourselves right back where we began.
On the 11th and 12th October, a thousand people were permitted at the London Palladium to watch a show. It defies logic that this number attended an indoor venue yet cannot attend the vast outdoor spaces offered at racecourses where social distancing is easily achievable. It is common sense that a racecourse is far safer than an enclosed auditorium. This disparity is the frustration and yet there is no explanation why this hasn’t been taken up on our behalf with Oliver Dowden and the DCMS.
The on-course bookmakers have become the forgotten cog in the wheel that is the industry of horse racing.
We are a fundamental part of the race day experience and we also contribute significantly to the racing economy. This needs to be acknowledged by the Government, the Levy Board, the BHA and the racecourses.
The levy funds and the media rights money will not support the industry indefinitely and racecourses need crowds back soon. Very soon.
There are 10,531 list positions or pitches in total and through badge fees, marketing fees, entrance admissions and pitch transfer commissions it would be fair to say that the bookmakers total payments to racecourses are in the region of £8 -£10 million per annum. Our other expenses such as fuel, food and accommodation are also ploughed back into the economy.
As an industry, we would much rather return to work than rely on handouts but if this situation is set to continue for many more months, we need to be included in any plans for financial support.
Our pitches are essentially our trading ‘premises’ and they are central to all of our businesses. However, because they are not ‘buildings’ with a rateable value we do not qualify for any government grants.
When the licences were negotiated the pitches were valued collectively at £100 million. Their worth at present is questionable to say the very least. They are certainly not worth that now. On a sliding scale, in the best case scenario they could, in time, regain their worth and in the worst case scenario be rendered completely worthless should racecourses be forced to close.
Most on-course bookmakers are small family firms with no other income. Many will have borrowed significant amounts to purchase pitches and to fund working capital and for the past seven months and also going forward these costs have to be met.
Not only are we having to face the fact that our assets may be rendered worthless, we have also lost 100% of our income for the last seven months during our busiest and most profitable period of the year. This is set to continue and even when we do return, our income will be substantially reduced for another considerable period.
Many of us cannot access government backed loans because of banking ethics and there is a distinct lack of business account opportunities especially at the moment when they are in high demand. Behind Closed Doors racing has given the industry a temporary lifeline and has certainly aided the off course gambling firms both in shops and online. However, on-course bookmakers have been forced onto the side-lines since mid-March with limited or no financial help.
We continue to be unable trade as a direct consequence of the refusal of the DCMS to allow spectators back to the racecourses. This is an identical situation to the trading restrictions imposed on businesses that fall under Tier 3 regulations and they are being offered 66% of their wages whilst they are unable to trade.
Surely, a reasonable, fair minded government would agree that on-course bookmakers have been forced to cease trade and under trade equality must receive this benefit for the whole period that this has been the case.
Going forward we also need to stress the vital importance of promoting cash on racecourses. It is not only our main attraction as bookmakers but it also increases profitability for racecourses as winnings paid in cash are more readily spent on-course on food and beverages.
In a recent statement, Cheltenham racecourse announced the purchase of the latter would be cashless once the public were permitted to attend. They did not commit to whether or not this would be permanent but irrespective of it being a temporary measure it will cost the racecourse revenue not only in the sale of refreshments but also in the event of an IT or Wi-Fi breakdown. Card transactions would not be possible and this would be at huge financial cost.
Many spectators are spontaneous ‘walk up’ attendees paying cash at the gate. It is highly likely that individuals who are denied access simply because their preferred method is by paying cash to gain admission would never return to the races again.
There have been further scaremongering reports in the media recently regarding the spread of the virus via bank notes (and plastic surfaces such as bank cards and phones) despite the fact that the World Health Organisation has NOT changed its stance on this.
To summarise, the on-course bookmakers would like to be considered on a par with other businesses that have suffered as a result of this pandemic. Throughout the decision making processes there has been no level playing field and because horse racing is categorised as being an Elite Sport we have not been considered on our own merits. Racecourses are completely different environments to stadiums and it has been proven at the trial meetings that racecourses are more than capable of providing a Covid safe experience to which we could return.
Lynn Garritty – Chairperson, Independent On-Course Bookmakers Group.