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Daytime TV gambling ads ban worries ITV and threatens its racing coverage 16/10/2016
• Value of rights depends on bookies paying for programme slots
• BHA says sport will be united in calling for an exemption for racing

The possibility of a pre-watershed ban on the adverts was floated in The Times and, while the report was speculative and anonymously sourced, it was enough to send a shiver through senior figures, both on the turf and beyond.

Among those feeling anxious were the executives who negotiated a £30m, four-year deal to televise racing on ITV from 2017. The value of racing’s terrestrial rights depends almost entirely on the huge sums that bookmakers will pay to advertise in the breaks. A ban on daytime advertising would blow a hole in ITV’s business plan as wide as Newmarket Heath, and reduce the value of the rights in future deals almost to zero.

The digital channel At The Races also depends heavily on bookmaker advertising. Other sports, football in particular, could also see a drop in the value of their TV rights, but only racing has a fundamental link to betting as a primary revenue stream and a daytime ban would be catastrophic for the sport’s finances.

Possible changes to the rules on gambling adverts will be added to a review of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), the controversial gaming machines that have turned what were once betting shops into outlets for roulette and other fixed-margin games which were once restricted to casinos. The British Horseracing Authority kept public comment to a minimum, on the basis that the story is only a rumour at present.

“The government hasn’t yet launched its review,” Will Lambe, the BHA’s director of corporate affairs, said, “so we first need to await details of the consultation and any proposals arising. However, it is likely that as part of any consultation that racing would be united in making strong representations for an exemption for horse racing content. These representations would be based around racing’s obvious interdependence with betting compared to other sports, and the nature of its TV coverage.”

Racing will also be concerned that any compromise proposal that imposed an early-evening cut-off point for gambling adverts would bar bookies from advertising during terrestrial racing coverage, but leave much of the televised Premier League and Champions League football schedule on Sky Sports and BT Sport relatively unaffected.

Mark Johnston, a leading trainer for 25 years and also a former director of the British Horseracing Authority, told the Racing Post that ITV should “get rid of all coverage of betting” when it takes over from Channel 4 as the sport’s terrestrial broadcaster next year. If ITV fails to heed his warning, Johnston suggested, a “Top Gear-style car crash” could be on the way.

Consistency is a trait any punter must admire when it comes to Mark Johnston but not maybe his relentlessly negative view of betting. When you are lucky enough to run a business underpinned by sovereign wealth - just over a third of his runners are owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum, the son of Sheikh Mohammed and the crown prince of Dubai - it is difficult to make an argument the rest of can understand.

ITV commits to 40 days racing on the main ITV channel, the rest to be shown on ITV4.

The commercial broadcaster, which takes over from Channel 4 as the sport's exclusive terrestrial partner from New Year's Day, will show 40 days of racing on its main channel.

Sandown's Tingle Creek meeting, the Coral Welsh National and Cheltenham Trials Day are three of the most high-profile absentees from the schedule and will instead be broadcast on ITV4.

ITV will not broadcast a day of racing on its main channel between Cheltenham on New Year's Day and the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, almost two-and-a-half months later.

A total of 14 days of jumps and 26 days of Flat racing will be shown on the main channel.