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Epsom criticised for plans to sell pitches on hill.

Byline: Tom Kerr

BOOKMAKERS yesterday blasted Epsom over its decision to rip up the decades-old Derby day tradition that determined where layers pitched on the hill, the common ground opposite the grandstand, and instead auction off pitches to the highest bidder.

The free viewing areas opposite the track have for years been a loosely organised Derby meeting haven for bookies, where they could bet for a small fee and positions were determined by seniority.

However, from this year, all areas where bookmakers stand are being brought under the control of the Administration of Gambling on Tracks, the body responsible for administration of on-course betting at every track in Britain, and old pitches, often handed down through generations, will be no more.

But it was the decision to auction off pitches, even more than ignoring the complex seniority built up over many years on the hill, that yesterday prompted bookies to respond vociferously.

"I don't think they understand how bad it is for bookies. The thing about bidding is nonsense and anyone who bids more than a pound is a halfwit," said layer and ATR pundit Gary Selby.

In previous years standing in the semi-regulated betting areas outside the racecourse proper would have cost bookies between pounds 100-pounds 150, but full regulation, plus the expense of bidding, looks set to see layers' expenses rise.

Worse still, according to oncourse bookmaker David Peckham, is that the bidding system is fundamentally unfair.

He said: "The problem is bookmakers have no clear idea what their pitch is worth. Some of these guys have been on the hill for years and now have to think what sort of a bid to put in. You could put in a bid of two thousand pounds and get the number one pitch, while the bookie next to you might have only bid two or three hundred pounds."

Ian Govey, whose grandfather started standing on the hill in the 1960s, predicted the move would drive some bookies away from the site.

"Speculation is that the minimum bid will be two hundred and fifty pounds, which will make it more expensive than Tatts and unviable for some bookies," he said. "You get a good few hundred now and they will maybe lose five to ten per cent."

Epsom yesterday insisted the move was necessary under the terms of the course's Betting Premises Licence, which includes the area.

Managing director Rupert Trevelyan, who said the racecourse had not received any negative feedback from bookmakers, added: "The intention is not to generate more revenue for Epsom, in fact it will cost more due to increased operational costs."

CAPTION(S):

A bookie on the hill at Epsom, where a row is brewing over a plan to end decades of bookmaking tradition
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 16, 2012
Words:458
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