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BHB annual review: Usual suspects come under fire for 'bleeding the sport for years' Nichols rounds on bookmakers and exchanges.

Byline: HOWARD WRIGHT

THE betting industry, including exchanges, attracted the lion's share of what criticism emerged yesterday from the principal speakers at the lowest-key BHB annual review of the racing industry since Peter Savill first became involved more than half a dozen years ago.

Addressing an audience that included senior figures from Coral, Ladbrokes, William Hill and Betfair, BHB chief executive Greg Nichols accused the bookmakers of having "bled the sport for years without paying a proper financial consideration".

He did so having noted that "the sometimes fractured relationship between the British betting and racing industries over the payment of an appropriate royalty" had taken a turn to "a more constructive dialogue".

Nichols pointed to an appreciation by racing that it should acknowledge "the demands of the bookmakers and their important role as intermediary between racing and one of our two most important customers, the punter".

He said it was a misconceived premise, which had gained notoriety since the change to a gross profits taxation system, that the two industries were living in each other's pockets.

"A mutuality of interest does not constitute a conspiracy against the punter," he said.

That said, Nichols claimed that, through the inter-relation of the European Court of Justice ruling in the case involving William Hill and the Office of Fair Trading inquiry, "a successful and concerted campaign by the betting industry had kept British racing off balance, and ensured that the sport received a disproportionately low royalty".

He praised immediate former chairman Savill - who later pronounced his presence at the meeting in the role of "part-time hack" - for his "ambition to install an appropriate financial structure for the sport in lieu of the subservience of the past", but said the bookmakers "could not resist making representations to the OFT that the BHB had 'abused its dominant position' as proprietor of British racing's database right".

Nichols, who said the unprecedented popularity of British racing was taking place against a background of turbulence, also took a swipe at the fixed-odds betting industry for what he claimed was its part in the European Commission's interest in the sale of the Tote to a racing trust.

He said the "untimely announcement" of a state-aid investigation was "a further example of the successful tactics employed by British racing's adversaries in keeping it poor and indebted to the betting industry".

He added that the EU inves-tigation was "more than likely instigated by the betting industry in its preoccupation with preventing racing from capitalising on its assets".

On betting exchanges, Nichols repeated the BHB line of concern about integrity, taxation and contribution to racing.

"Racing can only manage the first and last of these imperatives," he said. "It is for those responsible within the sport to ensure that integrity problems that do exist are more than compensated for by the advantages of a better audit trail."

Association of British Bookmakers chief executive Tom Kelly refuted Nichols' charges against the betting industry as "nonsense".

He added: "When the BHB decided to apply a commercial charge on the bookmaking industry, it didn't show any sympathy. Instead, we had Peter Savill's 'take it or leave it' edict. The general view of the betting industry is to support the commercial wellbeing of British horseracing, not to abandon it."

CAPTION(S):

BHB chief executive Greg Nichols (left) and chairman Martin Broughton at the annual review yesterday
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 10, 2005
Words:560
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