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Bookmakers may have to start paying their way 13/03/2009
Matt Scott

Bookmakers head to Cheltenham this week rubbing their hands at the prospect of £500m of turnover. Profits from the next four days will also go a long way to providing the minimum £65m they must pay to horse racing through the annual levy.

But if sports bodies are successful in persuading the European Commission to adopt draft legislation currently being worked on in France, bookies will be forced to hand over a proportion of all sports-betting turnover to organisers.

The Sports Rights Owners Coalition (SROC) – a collective including the FA, the Premier League, Uefa, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the LTA – has seized on the development to push for the adoption Europe-wide of a 1% turnover levy on all sports bets.

That would be worth tens of millions to bodies who are calling for a "fair return" and demanding the levy as a means to tackle the growing threat of corruption in sport. "The threat of corruption and match-fixing poses major challenges for sports," said SROC's Nic Coward, who will be at Cheltenham this week as chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority. "It is also right that sport, right across the spectrum, with all that sport represents, receives a fair return. This French proposal is a huge move forward."

SROC hopes to influence the Commission's independent study investigating what would constitute a "sustainable financing model" for sport that was launched at the end of last year.

European parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater regulation of the gambling industry yesterday in an attempt to protect sport from "criminal activities, such as money-laundering, and black economies [which] can be associated with gambling activities and impact on the integrity of sports events".

The language in the report by Christel Schaldemose, a Danish MEP, can leave bookmakers in no doubt that they face a fight to retain their commercial independence. "The growth of online gambling provides increased opportunities for corrupt practices such as fraud, match-fixing, illegal betting cartels and money-laundering, as online games can be set up and dismantled very rapidly and as a result of the proliferation of offshore operators," said the report.

With world leaders from Barack Obama to Gordon Brown recently opening assaults on offshore tax havens, it is now betting operators based in outlandish locations from Gibraltar to Malta to the Dutch Antilles that have come into the politicians' crosshairs. MEPs evidently concurred, with 544 voting in favour of measures including sports being able to demand payment from bookies offering markets on their events. Only 36 voted against.