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BHA stops short of full backing for bookies over machines

Government is review gaming machine stakes
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The BHA has said a "material" reduction in the stakes on the gaming machines known as fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) would hit racing's finances but stopped short of supporting bookmakers' calls for the status quo to be maintained.

In October the government launched a review of gambling, including the stakes and prizes on the controversial machines, which provide more than half of betting shops' profits.

Campaigners have called for the maximum stake to be reduced to £2 from £100 to protect problem gamblers.

Bookmakers have said this would lead to the closure of thousands of betting shops and have tried to recruit the racing industry to support them, warning the sport would lose out on millions of pounds of income from levy and media rights payments.

Many would be uncomfortable

However, while outlining racing's position to government, the BHA has not thrown its weight behind the betting shop operators' calls and recognises many within the sport would be uncomfortable if they did.

The sport's governing body said on Friday it recognised racing's finances were tied to the future of betting shops, but said it wanted the sport to be their core product.

BHA director of corporate affairs Will Lambe said: "Even with the remote betting market captured in the imminent legislative changes to the levy, British racing’s financial sustainability will remain closely tied with the economics of approximately 8,800 licensed betting offices (LBOs) in Great Britain.

"We stated in our response to the government’s call for evidence in December 2016 that we wholeheartedly support a strong, vibrant and – most importantly – socially responsible retail betting sector in Britain, and we wish to see British racing as the core product within this sector."

'A careful balance'

This week former culture secretary John Whittingdale warned bookmakers they needed to brace themselves for "significant change" as a result of the review, with the government likely to invoke the precautionary principle.

Lambe added: "British racing agrees with the government’s view that a careful balance needs to be maintained between people having opportunities to bet and responsible regulation being in place.

"We are not taking a position on the appropriate stake for B2 machines in LBOs, but material reductions in stake, which lead to a reduction in the number of LBOs, would cause losses of revenue to the racing industry."

The government is expected to publish its findings and proposals following the review in the next few weeks.

We wholeheartedly support a strong, vibrant and – most importantly – socially responsible retail betting sector in Britain
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