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High hopes met with low delivery.

WE waited, he came, he didn't say much, he went away again. We tried to work out what he'd said.

Mike O'Brien, the minister in charge of gambling but less interested in gambling and less jolly than George Howarth used to be, keeps his hair very neat.

If the Government had been ready to say what it was going to do with the Tote and the levy system, O'Brien could have talked about that, but since it wasn't ready, he couldn't.

Instead, he told the racing and betting industries - again - that the Government is the opposite of impressed by their slanging matches and that the way to open ministerial ears is to

co-operate.

He told the BHB to be more realistic in its approach to levy negotiations, and he told the BHB and bookmakers that they should be able to work things out between themselves without pestering Home Secretaries, who soon won't be available for pestering.

He said something about offshore betting and betting duty, but no-one was quite sure what it was. John Brown of William Hill thought it was that the Government wasn't going to cut betting duty but, instead, was going to do to offshore betting what a forgotten American president once tried to do to booze - prohibit it - with much the same outcome. Possibly without Al Capone.

Tristram Ricketts thought otherwise. He thought it meant that Gordon Brown was going to take it all very seriously indeed, which meant that he might do what racing wanted him to do. That isn't quite the same as what the bookmakers want him to do, bookmakers and racing not being able to agree on what should be done with betting duty, which ministers will no doubt have noted.

O'Brien certainly told the bookmakers that they must rise to the challenge.

He thinks EPOS, the automated bet-settlement system, is a good thing.

Everyone must say whatever it is they want to say to the gambling review, which is a jolly important review, and about which the Government has an open, if not an empty, mind.

Before that, Tom Kelly and John Brown had explained why the Government would be barmy if it didn't cut betting duty, and they produced lots of bar charts and figures to prove their points, which they did rather well. Brown is particularly good at this. The other Brown may not be listening.

Then Kelly produced a

bar-chart to show how SP margins had plunged in 1999 and weren't going to get any better unless something was done about it, and something would have to be done about it.

What the something was wasn't quite clear, but it wasn't anything to do with the National Joint Pitch Council or Levy Board, but was to be decided by what Kelly called the "consumer of the product", by which he didn't mean betting-shop customers but betting-shop owners.

BOLA wants to make the SP system more efficient. I think efficient may mean bigger margins. I think it may mean more efficient for the Big Three but less efficient for the hundreds of thousands of punters.

Need to keep an eye on that one.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Ashforth, David
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 23, 2000
Words:524
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