Breaking Apart UK Gambling Bill Could Get Racing Measures through This Session

2 June 2003

The future of the comprehensive gambling bill that would spur a massive overhaul of the industry in Britain remains murky, but racing officials said last week that parts of the bill could still be addressed in the 2003-04 parliamentary session, which will commence this in the fall.

While officials with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have voiced their commitment to getting the bill introduced in the next session, it's unclear whether it's a priority for the leadership.

"There is too much invested to not go through with these recommendations."
- Clive Hawkswood

Regardless of the timing, two key racing issues could be dealt with separately. First, the government has been working for several years on a plan that would have the DCMS sell the government-run Tote to a racing trust. Second, the DCMS has been working on a transition that would hand responsibility of the Levy Board over to the British Horseracing Board. Both plans were recommended in the Budd Report, the impetus for the gambling bill.

Part of the reason the bill might not go before Parliament during the next session stems from the size of the bill; it contains more than 250 clauses covering nearly all aspects of gambling from the regulating Internet casinos to bringing in Vegas-style casino resorts.

Officials with the DCMS were unavailable for comment on Friday about the situation, but The Racing Post reported that the department was drafting alternative plans that would allow the Tote and Levy Board issues to move forward for the upcoming session, while the rest of the bill would be addressed in the following session. Meanwhile, the DCMS maintains that its fully prepared to meet any deadlines needed to get the bill to Parliament for the 2003-04 session.

Clive Hawkswood, senior policy advisor for the DCMS, said that if the gambling bill wasn't taken up in the 2003-04 session that it most certainly would be addressed in the session after that.

"This might be delayed, but it isn't something that anyone, either the government or the gambling industry, is going to walk away from," he said. "There is too much invested to not go through with these recommendations."

According to The Racing Post, Tote Chairman Peter Jones has been working in with the DCMS to ensure that the Tote bill is taken up next session. Jones, whose chairmanship was recently extended through 2005, wants to see the situation resolved once and for all.

"The Tote has been under government scrutiny for about 15 years," he said. "I inherited it six years ago, and I don't want to have to pass it on to my successor."

Jones also said the Tote isn't operating optimally under the current conditions.

"The uncertainty and having to take account of what government might think is not helpful for the business, and it also takes up a lot of valuable management time, just when we are facing more competition from fixed-odds bookmakers," he said.

Jones isn't the only one pushing the DCMS to make sure that the Tote and Levy Board issues can move forward even if the rest of the Gambling Bill doesn't progress during the next session.

Like Jones, British Horseracing Board Secretary-General Tristram Ricketts is hopeful the bill will be addressed this year, but Ricketts said backup plans are being considered.

"We remain hopeful that the government will find time for its planned gambling bill in the 2003-04 session," he said. "If this is not possible, for whatever reason, we very much hope there will still be a slot for a small, separate Tote and Levy bill to fulfill the government commitment made over three years ago."

Levy Board Chairman Rob Hughes said he supports efforts to deal with the Tote separately. The Levy Board has imposed a deadline of 2005 for closure, and Hughes said the group would adhere to that deadline.

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