Is horse racing facing an existential threat?
Photo by: Unknown / CC0 1.0
According to a former top level industry executive, the sport and general industry of horse racing in the UK will soon face an “existential threat” that could put its long-term future at risk.
Richard Flint, former Chief Executive of gaming company Sky Bet recently informed the Racing Post that horse racing would become caught in the crossfire of any threats to the real money gaming and betting industry in the UK. He claimed that should the practice of bookmaking be targeted by opponents to betting and gambling in the country, anyone who would think that racing itself would be “immune to scrutiny” is “naive”. Flint believes that any negative changes to the 2005 Gambling Act would do “vast harm” to the revenues generated by the racing industry.
A mutual partnership
The practice of bookmaking is tied into the long history of the sport of racing, dating back hundreds of years to the 1790s. Nowadays, the practice has been transformed by the digital revolution and forms a lucrative vertical in the global iGaming industry, with numerous platforms and websites dedicated to placing wagers online. Even casino and poker gaming brands like PokerStars, which is well known for its portfolio of real money gaming solutions, enabled betting on horse races through its platform.
Bookmakers and racing go hand in hand
Photo by: JohnPickenPhoto / CC BY 2.0
However, according to Flint it’s this association that could most put the horse racing industry at risk in the UK. Flint’s concern is that the negative view held by some leading politicians and policy makers on activities like making sports bets online, or playing a game of online poker, will overpower other perspectives when it comes to decision making – “I think it’s a dangerous moment (for betting and racing) because there are more politicians with a very negative view of the industry than there are with a positive…”
Recent changes are warning signs
Flint believes that recent changes made to real money gaming and betting policies, both here and in Europe, are warning signs that racing could be the next thing that campaigners and politicians turn their attention to.
Here in the UK, the law reducing the maximum stake allowed on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to £2 from £100 has come into force over the past few months. According to Flint, the focus is now on online gaming and football wagering, with racing likely to be next – “if they’re successful…it will be on to the next thing, which could be betting on racing.”
The ban in Italy on sponsorships and advertising related to real money practices has also recently come into force, with Flint adding that should something similar happen in the UK it would “take racing off terrestrial TV (and) do vast harm to racing’s finances”.
These two changes are being held up as examples of the intense scrutiny and regulation faced by sectors within the gambling industry, and as far as Flint is concerned racing won’t be immune to either. He’s calling on racing to become a “critical friend” to the industry, in order to form a new partnership to face and deal with this before it becomes the aforementioned existential risk
Will greater regulation really harm racing?
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) recently said in response that it would continue to emphasise the importance of socially-responsible betting to the sport of racing, as well as the “significant implications” of any policy changes within the sector.
Just last year horse racing was declared a traditional pastime, which means it will be exempt from changes to rules on gambling advertising. So, will greater regulations in the UK really do harm to the finances and the future of the sport?
The speed at which the online sector has evolved means that examining existing regulations and potentially making changes is really only a matter of time – but that’s a natural response to such major developments over a relatively short period of time and it would be socially irresponsible to think otherwise. However, whether such hypothetical changes to regulation would effectively force the practice of bookmaking, and subsequently racing, out of existence is quite a dramatic overstatement.
The 2005 Gambling Act removed the distinction between the two practices of betting and gaming, so most of the campaigns for tighter regulations are actually calling for tighter boundaries between the two. It’s much more likely that the focus of future acts within the UK will actually place most of the regulation and restriction on gaming, since unlike betting it’s a sector where operators can’t lose. So if anything, both horse racing and bookmaking may benefit from those upcoming changes, not lose out.