The British Horseracing Authority hailed what could be a major boost to the sport’s long-term funding on Tuesday evening after the government announced it will review the Levy system, which returns money to racing from off-course betting, in 2021, three years ahead of schedule.
An early review of the system, including a possible extension of Levy payments to cover races overseas, was a key step in the industry’s Covid-19 Recovery Plan, which was published in August. The plan aims to restore stability to racing’s income following huge losses in revenue due to the absence of significant crowds from British tracks since mid-March.
Jockey Club Racecourses alone, which owns major venues including Cheltenham, Aintree, Epsom and Newmarket, is estimated to have lost at least £100m in revenue so far in 2020, while the overall loss to the industry has been estimated at £300m by the Racecourse Association. It could also be several months at least before attendances can return to anything like pre-Covid levels.
The Levy review could also examine the possibility of returning to at least some element of turnover-based assessment of payments, rather than the current system based wholly on bookmakers’ gross profits from racing bets.
“We welcome the announcement from the minister [Nigel Huddleston] that [the Department of Culture, Media and Sport] will examine in 2021 the timetable for reviewing the Levy,” Nick Rust, the BHA’s chief executive, said. “Racing industry leaders agreed that there was an urgent case for reform as part of our plans to recover from Covid-19 and have presented a united front to government. As the minister outlined in the House today, there are ongoing conversations between the BHA and government on Levy reform. We look forward to working with DCMS officials and ministers in 2021 to ensure that the Levy is sustainable and fit for the digital age.”
Rust also welcomed Tuesday’s publication of the terms of a long-awaited review by the DCMS of the 2005 Gambling Act. “Betting on horse racing is enjoyed by millions of people safely and responsibly, with a low prevalence for gambling-related harm,” he said. “Despite the low levels of problem gambling in the sport, racing promotes responsible gambling and is committed to working with the betting industry to further reduce risk. We are pleased to hear that the review will be evidence-based and we look forward to proposals that are proportionate and focused on those at risk.”