Thursday, 11 September 2014

All Power to the Scottish Racing Authority

I can’t help it, I am totally enthralled by the coverage of Scotland’s independence referendum. It is exciting, fascinating and just a little bit bonkers – not unlike race-meetings at Cartmel but with more clowns and fewer picnics.
From a purely personal point of view, I am very supportive of Scottish independence. Many people, including many friends, relations and colleagues will disagree with me. They may even question whether I live in the real world. But of course I don’t… I live in the racing world, where the most important topic at breakfast is whether Compton Park (this week’s selection) has eaten up his oats ahead of the Portland Handicap at Doncaster on Saturday.
Scotland is a land where betting shops have traditionally prospered. The Scots account for around 8.4% of the UK population and are believed to account for at least as much of the UK’s annual betting turnover. The Levy generated by Scottish punters is paid to the Horserace Betting Levy Board in London where, together with monies generated by English and Welsh punters, it is distributed across the racing industry in the form of prize money grants and payments for the industry’s integrity services.
Scottish racecourses receive approximately 6.2% of the annual HBLB spend – which means that more than a quarter of the money generated by Scottish punters is used to fund racing in England and Wales. Now the obvious thing to point out (and many of my colleagues in the industry will be quick to do so), is that much of the money wagered by Scots is bet on races that are staged in England – not Scotland. Some people will argue that it is only fair that these courses should receive a proportionate share of the Levy revenue.
However, in a world where financial transactions are whispered across the ether from one continent to another, we have reached a new conclusion – that betting transactions should be taxed at the point of consumption. This means that bets accepted, from UK customers, by bookmakers in Gibraltar will be taxed in the UK. If Scotland achieves independence, it is not unreasonable for bets accepted from Scottish customers to be taxed and levied in Scotland.
The additional revenue could be used by the Scottish racing industry to stage more fixtures and more prestigious races, which in turn would stimulate more betting turnover and – even more importantly – a larger population of horses trained in Scotland and the North of England. Ultimately, a rebalancing of finances could be beneficial to racing on both sides of the border.
While such arguments are simple to make in a 500 word blog, there would of course be some complex issues to resolve. Scottish race-days form part of a matrix of fixtures across Britain which are currently regulated by a governing body. Even if the Scottish racing industry were to break free of these ties, the commercial realities of our media rights contracts bind the five Scottish racecourses to many of their English counterparts.
Scottish independence would not necessarily be good for racing at Cartmel, but it wouldn’t necessarily be bad either. A "no" vote would probably provide more security to Scottish racecourses and a whole lot less hassle. However, in my humble opinion, a "yes" vote would grant the Scottish racing industry a whole world of opportunity.

As our Prime Minister keeps saying "It’s for the Scot’s to decide". I don’t have a vote, but I still believe that this is the most exciting race of the year.

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