Main Menu
Top of Page
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Poker   | News   | Email

Welcome to the News desk.

Betting shop screens may go blank in April 24/02/2007
Greg Wood Saturday February 24, 2007

An end to the blanket coverage of British racing in off-course betting shops, which has been taken as read by punters for nearly 20 years, appears to be within sight after a leading figure in the betting industry said yesterday that negotiations with a number of major tracks "are not about brinkmanship or posturing, but have reached a state of impasse".

The Flat meeting scheduled for Newbury on April 20 could now be the first of many this year to take place without live pictures in all betting shops, while nearly half of the entire 2008 programme could vanish from many of the screens if a deal is not done before the end of December.

After the traumas of recent years, including the British Horseracing Board's failed commercial scheme to replace the Levy and a long-running investigation by the Office of Fair Trading, another bitter dispute with the potential to cost the racing and betting industries millions is the last thing the sport wants or needs. The situation is, as one off-course bookie put it yesterday, "a horrible mess".

Satellite Information Services
Satellite Information Services
Fans of high-class racing are likely to suffer most, as the right to broadcast live action from many of Britain's most prestigious courses is at the centre of the current dispute. The 30 tracks that form the Racing UK group - including Cheltenham, Newmarket and York - want to break the current monopoly held by Satellite Information Services (SIS) on providing betting-shop pictures; SIS, not surprisingly, wants to stop them. The bookies, meanwhile, fear they could end up paying twice for the same amount of coverage, leading to a seven-figure hole in annual accounts.

Most of the SIS contracts to work from Racing UK courses expire at the end of the year. Five deals, though, have just a few weeks left to run, until March 31 (the rights for Ascot, which has yet to choose an ally, are available from the same date). This is the turf where the first skirmishes will be fought, and from April 1, it seems increasingly likely that all races at Newbury, York, Chester, Goodwood and Bangor-on-Dee that are not broadcast by terrestrial television will go unseen in betting-shops.

"It is an impasse," Tom Kelly, the chief executive of both the Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Services organisation - which supplies programming to SIS - and the Association of British Bookmakers, said yesterday. "We don't want to lose those tracks, but we won't be bullied, and from April 1 they will not be on SIS if things continue on their present course. SIS will look for other products to fill gaps.

"[The Racing UK tracks] try to argue that competition will force both companies to charge bookmakers less than the current figure of £12,800 [by SIS], but I can't believe that as they both have fixed costs they can do nothing about. It could cost the industry an extra £20m a year."

For their part, the Racing UK courses remain confident most bookies will eventually sign. "We went into this prepared to take a bit of heat if necessary," Richard Thomas, the chief executive of Chester racecourse, says. "We are prepared for a bit of pain now if it means we are in control of our own destiny, and in the long term, I just can't believe that pictures from 30 racecourses are not going to be too valuable for the bookmakers to lose."

The issue is, are these 30 tracks so key to off-course bookies that in the end they will have to pay up? Stand by for a few blank screens as they work out an answer.