Finally a Deal is Struck

2 May 2002

Track owners and British bookmakers have reached an "in principle" agreement that will allow British betting shops to continue carrying live racing pictures. The details of the agreement will likely be announced within the next two days.

Neither the Racecourse Association nor the Confederation of Bookmaker Associations side will make an official statement until negotiating members have had time to report back to their respective parties.

Bookmakers were reportedly looking for £3,500 per race, while racing countered with £5,000.

The previous contract, a 15-year deal allowing bookmakers to carry live pictures from all 59 U.K. tracks, expired Wednesday.

Things looked bleak for the country's off-course punters Tuesday, as they faced a blackout from the major tracks following a unanimous vote at the Racecourse Association's annual general meeting against accepting the bookmakers' latest offer for picture rights.

Although neither side would comment, the United Kingdom's largest bookmaker released a statement applauding the progress made in the talks. Ladbrokes said its executives will gather and sign the agreement within the next two days.

Christopher Bell, chief executive officer of Ladbrokes Worldwide, was privy to the talks and feels the agreement is one that will keep the horseracing industry strong without penalizing bookmakers at any length.

"I am very pleased to have been able to agree to a commercially sound deal with the racecourses, based on our ability to pay," he said. "I am now looking forward to working together with the racing industry to realize the opportunity this agreement gives us to maximize the profitability of all of our businesses."

The Racing Post reported Tuesday that bookmakers offered to pay £3,500 per race for a stated number of events and fixtures, but that fee would not be imposed for terrestrially televised races. That offer was "totally and unanimously rejected," according to RCA chairman Keith Brown.

The RCA annual meeting mandated its official negotiators, chaired by Richard Johnston of Racecourse Holdings Trust, to negotiate a "more equitable deal." It was reported that in a lunchtime phone call on Tuesday, racing countered with £5,000 per race, but that too was given short thrift.

The betting shop operators previously offered around £25 million a year, but it was believed that the RCA was holding out for £45 million.

The £3,500 pounds-a-race offer, based on a minimum program of three meetings a day, would have created an annual price of around £25 million.

As racing and betting were ironing out the deal Wednesday, a new Sky digital racing channel--attheraces--was being launched with a commitment to provide 14 hours of daily racing coverage.

The channel is the product of a deal reached last year by a consortium of BSkyB, Channel 4 and Arena Leisure with the RCA's 49 racetracks with a contract worth $447.4 million over 10 years.