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Levy income hit as high rollers retreat 16/07/2009
Greg Wood

The Levy, which returns money to racing from the off-course betting industry, dropped by 20%, from £115.3m to £91.6m, in the last financial year, according to figures released by Levy Board yesterday. However, the Board also suggested that a drop of 8% is a more realistic measure of the decline, as it excludes the extraordinary impact of "high rollers" in the previous Levy scheme.

In all, the 47th Levy scheme – a 10% charge on bookmakers' gross profits on British racing – raised £23.7m less than the 46th scheme. However, the yield in 2007-8 was inflated by a tiny handful of "high rollers" losing huge sums to Ladbrokes, who have either stopped betting altogether, or adopted a more modest pattern of stakes.

"Last year was unique and extraordinary," Douglas Erskine-Crum, the Levy Board's chief executive, said yesterday. "About £15m of Levy income was provided by the high rollers, which was a complete one-off.

"That figure suggests the high roller, or high-rollers, lost £150m, which is a huge amount of money, and unfortunately it has not happened again."

Erskine-Crum said that the latest Levy yield is "disappointing" but no worse than could be expected in the current economic climate.

"If you exclude the high rollers, the drop is 8%, which is in line with a lot of other indicators," he said. "The important thing is that we are trying to do something about it. One example is the re-establishment of our betting patterns working party, which will examine exactly when the best time to stage races is.

"At the moment, afternoon racing finishes at about 5.30pm and the evening racing does not start until about 7pm. There is an hour-and-a-half gap and everyone leaves the betting shops. We will be looking to twilight racing to plug that gap."

Jamie Osborne, the trainer of Geordieland, yesterday set out an ambitious plan for the popular grey stayer which could culminate in a run at the Breeders' Cup meeting in California in November.

Geordieland finished in the frame in the Gold Cup at Ascot last month for the third year running, and is likely to have his next start in the Group Two Lonsdale Stakes at York's Ebor meeting.

"An alternative would be to wait until the Doncaster Cup in September," Osborne said yesterday, "but the Lonsdale is the favourite at the moment.

"If we went to York and that went well, I'd like to run him one more time, and I'd like that to be in the Breeders' Cup Marathon [at Santa Anita on 7 November]. If we go to York it gives us a longer preparation time, which would suit us."

Casual Conquest, third home in last year's Derby and a Group One winner already this season, will run in the Meld Stakes at Leopardstown a week today as he continues to prepare for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October.

Dermot Weld's colt was beaten by Bronze Cannon at Newmarket in May, before beating Famous Name – twice an easy winner since – by five-and-a-half lengths in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.

"He was a long time off before Newmarket, he was ring-rusty and the ground was a bit too hard for him," Stan Cosgrove, racing manager for Moyglare Stud, Casual Conquest's owner, said yesterday. "He's very well, he's only run six times and we'll keep him going. The Arc is the plan."

Casual Conquest is 20-1 for the Arc with William Hill, who make Fame And Glory, the easy winner of the Irish Derby last month, their favourite at 100-30.