Betting shops to close – who knew?
Mike Deasy on some fake news about betting shops to close and the Racehorse Owners Association dragging its heels
“DEATH OF THE HIGH STREET BETTING SHOP” screamed a Daily Mirror headline. Who knew?
But, hang on, “Just over 3,000 prime-location bookies left in the UK” read the sub-heading above the “exclusive” story by the paper’s business editor, Graham Hiscott.
Just over 3,000? Blimey, that’s a big drop from the last figure I saw. The caveat is in the “prime location” tag.
In fact, add the non-prime sites and the total is 6,634, an overall drop of 758 from the end of last year. Does the prime location criteria apply to the betting shop in the same way it does, say, for a bank, where your deposits are not limited and you are also allowed to make withdrawals?
It’s still a steep decline and after the reduction in the FOBT maximum stake did for many shops, Covid-19 added to the toll. Next up is the takeover of William Hill, where the preferred suitor, Caesars Casino, has no interest in holding on to the UK business.
Hills, already in the vanguard of shop shutting, will be keen to be as lean as possible to attract buyers here in the UK, so they’ll be looking at more premises where they can bring down the shutters. Chances are that they’ll be even less accommodating of punters wanting a decent bet.
But is it the death of the betting shop?
The numbers will continue to decline but the Mirror’s Hiscott sought the opinion of Susannah Streeter of brokers Hargreaves Lansdown who said: “I still think there will be an appetite to go to watch a game in a betting shop because there is a social side to it.”
I wonder how much time she spends in the bookies.
Some people watching ITV’s coverage of the Arc will have been disappointed that, early in the coverage, Matt Chapman was handed a replacement microphone which worked.
Racing roadmap needed. Indeed
There is a clarion call in the latest issue of the glossy monthly Owner and Breeder, published by the Racehorse Owners Association and Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, from the magazine’s editor Edward Rosenthal, that a new roadmap for racing is sorely needed.
“If necessity is the mother of invention,” he says “perhaps now we have the ideal conditions to come up with a new roadmap for British racing. It would be lovely to see it before the Cheltenham Festival arrives in March, hopefully with a healthy crowd in attendance.”
He points out that the demand from industry participants seems to grow louder by the day so asked “Do racing’s power-players have the nous and foresight to navigate a different path before it’s too late.”
There’s a bit of irony here, as a few days before publication, the Racehorse Owners Association came in for criticism for dragging its heels from prominent owner Jon Hughes (pictured), who is a key figure in the Owners for Owners partnership.
He’s asked why it has taken the Association so long to release its ownership strategy which it has been working on for nearly three years and received £1.66m from the levy to fund the project.
“The absence of a strategy is a disgrace,” said Hughes. “It’s an important element of the recovery plan and given it was commissioned in 2017, the key elements should have really taken shape but I’ve seen no indication of any meaningful progress.
“I don’t know what it is about the strategy that is taking so long or costing so much money. It’s a headscratcher. It needed to have set timeframes and be driven forward by more than one organisation.
The ROA seems to have made heavy going of producing it.”
The project has been included in British racing’s Covid-19 recovery plan, which was published by industry leaders last month and stated the ROA’s strategy would be ready to publish in the “coming weeks”, once it has been approved by the BHA’s Members Committee.
In contrast, Hughes, together with Ged Shields, published in July A Blueprint for Racehorse Ownership in the UK: Making retention and acquisition of owners the number 1 goal of a Racing Recovery Plan.
Responding to the criticism ROA chief executive Charlie Liverton told the Racing Post: “The ROA is doing a significant amount in these challenging circumstances, working with industry stakeholders, to retain owners.
“We know, and have made it clear to racing ’s leadership, that being an owner needs to be worthwhile. That takes cross-sport work, that is already under way, on improving prizemoney and its distribution through new commercial arrangements, improving the BCD [behind closed doors] raceday experience, improving owner support from syndicates to super-owners and improving the data and technology around racing, to name a few.
“There is a considerable amount to do to keep owners and make owning a horse an attractive proposition. We have to act or our sport is in trouble. The sport knows it and the ROA are driving the necessary change.”
Hopefully, the Racehorse Owners Association will deliver a strategy rather than another wish list and there’s plenty they can glean from the work of Hughes and Shields. They’ve had more than two months to do so.
Still waiting for the Chandler chronicles
The business still carries his name but 71-year-old Victor Chandler is no longer involved with bookmakers Bet Victor.
At one time he was said to he worth £365m, having been one of the first British bookmakers to set up overseas, in Antigua, and rapidly expanding the Victor Chandler brand, which owes its origins to his grandfather William in the 1920s, when not all activities undertaken by bookies were legal.
With ownership of Walthamstow Stadium, significant investment in Nottingham Forest, interest in horses, including the Nicky Henderson trained Champion Hurdle third Zaynar, and a friendship with artist Lucian Freud, there’s a huge amount of material for a fascinating biography.
So, Victor Chandler, it’s in the blood by Jamie Reid has been a book I’d been looking forward to, ever since its publication was announced around two year ago by the Racing Post. Sadly, after a number of delays, the Post has announced it will be no longer publishing the title. Maybe it will appear from another stable or there’ll be a new writer. I do hope so.