Britain's Smaller Betting Operations Gather to Discuss Change

5 February 2001
To many outsiders, trying to understand the system governing British bookmakers is akin to wandering about in a mist while bumping into objects that feel almost familiar. Bookmakers there have a Byzantine-like system of associations, organizations, groups, and offices that control, regulate, legislate or combat nearly every aspect of racing, betting and bookmaking activities. Last month one of the most vocal among these organizations, the British Betting Offices Association (BBOA), held its Industry Seminar 2001 in Claridge's Hotel, London.

The event, sponsored by Satellite Information Services and SNAI International, promised to give attendees insight into how the British bookmaking industry is changing and how it will be financed. In addition, the presentations were supposed to give bookmakers an idea of upcoming legislation and the betting duty situation. Instead, attendees left the daylong event with something to chew on while waiting for the Treasury to release its budget in March.

One of the most intriguing presentations came from Greenwood Racing Inc. President Bob Green, who proposed that British bookmakers should adopt a pari-mutuel wagering system. Following his speech, many audience members were eager to argue his points, both positively and negatively. (Indeed, no other presentation garnered as much debate, although the keynote speech given by the Treasury representative was probably supposed to provide more talking points.)

Instead, Stephen Timms from the Treasury preempted questioning by quickly delivering his speech before scurrying out to another event. While Timms could not definitively tell audience members what the government's budget announcement would say about betting duty, he did float before them one possible plan: The Treasury could drop the current 9 percent tax currently paid by punters in favor of a flat-rate levy on profits made by bookmakers. Such a move would probably require most bookmakers to shut down their offshore operations, although it's unclear how such a requirement would be received or even enforced.

The most intriguing aspect of the BBOA seminar had to be the attention given to the Internet and other new media. While most BBOA members only operate anywhere from one to 60 betting shops, the competition posed by Internet bookmaking sites could not be ignored. Surprisingly, even some of these operators have launched their own Internet sites to accommodate their customers' needs.

Now that the seminar is over, several of the presentations have been made available for IGN's readers: