As we recover from the pandemic, we must not allow British horse racing to fall behind
The Horserace Betting Levy should apply to all horse racing globally which is bet on by British customers, generating around £20 million annually to help British racing build back better.
Horse racing is a sport that means so much to me, not only because of my love for horse riding, but also because I have seen the positive impact that horse racing has in Newmarket and right across the UK. It is vital we support racing now to recover from the pandemic – for its own sake, because it does so much for jobs, prosperity, and for Britain’s soft power around the world.
Horse racing is the second biggest sport in the UK on any measure – by attendance, by revenue, or by employment. In 2019, over five million attended racecourses in Great Britain, and experienced the thrill of the turf. From flat cap to top hat, Chepstow to Chelmsford, and Perth to Pontefract, people are working, riding and enjoying racing and all the sport brings to our communities.
The racing industry is also one of the biggest private industry employers in Britain. The breadth of skill and craft is extraordinary. Farriers, vets, stud staff, feed suppliers, equipment suppliers, sales companies, bookmakers, transportation or equine schools, breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, the racing employs directly or indirectly 80,000 across the UK.
As we work to build an outward-looking, international and free-trading global Britain, investment from horse racing is vital
Nationally, aside from the estimated £4 billion a year contribution to the UK economy, racing as an industry has acted as a bridgehead for significant trade and investment into the UK. Examples include massive investment in business, property and universities from investors who come to the UK for our racing. As we work to build an outward-looking, international and free-trading global Britain, this investment is vital.
But as we recover from the pandemic, we must not allow British horseracing to fall behind. The suspension of racing for 11 weeks in 2020, and the absence of spectators from racecourses for the majority of 15 months to May 2021, is estimated to have cost the British racing industry between £400 and £450 million in lost revenues.
Racing is of course partly funded by a Levy that represents the value of horse racing to the gambling industry, for without races no-one bets on the horses. The Levy provides for the infrastructure of racing, and for the prize money that attracts investors who are crucial to the sport. We must also not lose sight of the important mission to prevent gambling-related harm, something I care deeply about.
In my adjournment debate today, I will be asking for two changes. First, the Levy should be based on a percentage of turnover, rather than a percentage of profit. This would result in less volatile yields and remove unhealthy perverse incentives in the sport.
Second, and most urgently, the Levy should apply to all horse racing globally which is bet on by British customers. Betting customers in Britain can safely enjoy and benefit from horse racing in a wide variety of countries, British participants often compete in these international events, driving interest and UK betting turnover.
However, British racing does not receive a return from betting activity on these races. An extension of the Levy to cover racing overseas would see this apply to all thoroughbred horse races held worldwide, rather than races solely run in Great Britain. This is how it works elsewhere, it can be quickly and easily enacted, and would generate around £20 million annually to help British racing build back better. Closing this loophole is right, fair, good economics, and based on historic, and international, precedent.
I urge the government to consider these reforms to ensure British racing can thrive in the years ahead.
Matt Hancock is the Conservative MP for West Suffolk.
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