MPs are champing at the bit for this year’s Grand National
Over 40 MPs from both sides of the House have backed a BGC initiative by placing bets on the world’s greatest steeplechase, The Grand National, which runs on Saturday, to raise money for charity.
The Betting and Gaming Council, the standards body for the regulated UK betting and gaming industry, invited MPs to visit a Paddy Power, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral, Betfred or independent betting shop in their constituency to place a charity bet on the racing calendar’s flagship event.
The Grand National is the most popular horse race in the world. First run in 1839, the handicap steeplechase covers just over 4 miles, with horses jumping 30 fences, including the infamous Becher’s Brook, over two laps.
Approximately 600 million people across 140 countries will watch it, and an estimated 13 million adults in the UK will be placing a bet on their horse. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this is the first time in three years betting shops will be open for the Grand National. They were closed in 2021, and in 2020, when the National took the form of a virtual race, the Betting and Gaming Council raised £2.9 million for NHS Charities Together.
It holds a special place for many. Toby Perkins, MP for Chesterfield and Staveley and the Shadow Minister for Skills and Further Education, fondly remembers backing Red Rum in 1977. “The National is a great spectacle, and a huge challenge for horses and riders” he says, “I will watch the race with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.”
Any winnings from this year’s race will be paid to a charity of the MP’s choice. In the event that their horse loses, Betting and Gaming Council members will still make a £100 donation to the chosen charity. Perkins is supporting the Ashgate Hospice. “Almost everyone in Chesterfield has had cause to be thankful to the Hospice for their care of a friend or family member,” he says. “Their ability to fundraise has been severely hampered by the pandemic, so they would certainly welcome an unexpected windfall.”
Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee is championing InFact, a charity set up to support those who have been impacted by sodium valproate in pregnancy. “I've done a lot of work with them in parliament over the course of the last 10 years, so hopefully I have backed a decent horse that will raise some money for them.”
Cross party parliamentarians taking part also include a number of 2019 Conservative MPs and former ministers. Others who have taken part include DWP Minister and former jockey Guy Opperman, Shadow Minister for Technology, Gambling and Digital Economy Alex Davies-Jones MP and Cabinet Minister and COP26 President Alok Sharma MP.
A number of MPs this year are supporting Ukrainian charities or support networks, including Caroline Dinenage MP, who has chosen the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. “I can’t get those images of suffering and destruction in Ukraine out of my mind” she says.
When picking the all-important horse to back from the 40-runner line-up, often form goes out of the window, with punters such as Mark Tami MP opting for the best-looking jockey silks, colours, or even their favourite number.
“I don’t know the full ins and outs” he says, “I normally go each way because I think that gives you a better chance.”
Nokes is taking a different approach, backing Snow Leopardess, a grey mare who has caught the public’s imagination with her somewhat unusual career path. She explains how Leopardess would not only be the first mare to win since 1951, and the fourth ever grey to win, but she is also the first “working mother” to run for 100 years, having had a foal during a near 800-day break, as she recovered from injury, “it’s a really romantic story, the sort of story that you love at The Grand National.”
With a background in horses, as the former chair of the National Pony Society, Nokes also thinks the weather will have an impact on this year’s results. “The weather is going to be really relevant this weekend. It’s going to tip it down with rain on Friday, so you need to pick something that’s able to run in the mud.”
Perkins on the other hand, has a slightly different tactic for picking a winner – purely on name. “I’ve gone for Burrows Saint. The previous council leader in Chesterfield and a great friend of mine was John Burrows.”
“He and his brother Walter (who is no longer with us) have taught me so much, not just about the reality of politics in Chesterfield and Staveley, but also about the impact it can make on people’s lives. I am not sure anyone has described either John or Walt as a saint, but I hope they can bring the Hospice a bit of luck.”
Dinenage is following the same theme as Perkins, backing Run Wild Fred. “Fred is the name of my dad and also my son.”
As well as raising money for charity, Perkins has used this initiative to visit his local betting shop, to hear from those working on the shop floor. “I have met constituents on whom gambling addiction has taken a terrible toll, but I have also heard from social gamblers who are very worried that limits would curtail their freedom to enjoy a bet” he explains, referencing the government’s proposals to reform gambling laws.
“I wanted to hear from those working on the shop floor about the steps they take to identify and support problem gamblers, whilst also hear from punters for whom their local shop is an important part of their social life.”
After the disruption of the last two years the industry is anticipating this year’s race to be one of the most popular on record, with an estimated £250m expected to be staked on the main event, and half of all bets placed in shops – that’s around 1,000 bets per shop.
According to the BGC, that is great news, as betting shops support 46,000 jobs on the UK’s hard-pressed high streets, contribute £1bn a year in tax to the Treasury and another £60m in business rates to local councils. Meanwhile, a study by ESA Retail found that 89 per cent of betting shop customers combine their trip to the bookies with visits to other local businesses.
Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “Millions of people, from all different backgrounds, will be coming together this Saturday to watch the Grand National and place a bet on the world’s most famous horserace. I want to say a huge thanks to those MPs who have backed the BGC charity bet, which will raise vital funds for a range of charities, and our members for their ongoing support.”
“Too often, anything to do with gambling gets dominated by a tiny minority of parliamentarians who represent a minority view - a handful of obsessed anti gambling prohibitionist MPs who just like to ban stuff. I hope that the Government will reflect on the fact that so many MPs engage with the BGC, support the industry, recognise the economic contribution it makes, and frankly the perfectly safe enjoyment it brings to millions of people”.
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