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Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Don’t blame the adverts for problem gambling

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To celebrate the countdown to Christmas, the Racing Post is giving away one piece of paid content free each day. Here, readers have their say on the hot topics in the sport in our weekly Letters column

According to GambleAware’s chair Kate Lampard (Racing Post, December 7), “public opinion represents a serious existential threat” to the gambling industry, with figures showing “declining public trust in the sector”.

As usual advertising comes in for some stick, gambling minister Tracey Crouch urging those responsible to “take a hard look at what you’re producing” which, despite strict controls, is “still very unpopular”. She told the industry: “You need to be more careful than ever that your adverts are responsible.”

Please, let’s have some serious debate about the relationship between advertising and problem gambling.

There is no “existential threat” from public opinion (inserting ‘serious’ before existential doesn’t stop it from being a cliche). Public opinion is not outraged and is not calling for the end of the gambling industry. Nor are they complaining they are being driven to gamble by advertising which is “pushing the boundaries”.

The idea that all you need to do is protect ‘victims’ from the manipulative seduction of adverts that prey on ‘vulnerable people’ is both simplistic and inaccurate.

Where is the evidence that advertising creates gambling problems? It’s like saying beer ads create drunks and food ads create obesity.
The problem is product availability, not communications. Addiction to any product is a problem. Many people indulge in all sorts of activities without harm, while others, for whatever reason, become dependent.

Where a product has a high propensity to cause damage to users then the obvious solution is to limit its availability or the toxicity of that product.  Here the real problem – FOBTs – is not mentioned. They are not referred to as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ for nothing and it is not advertising that drives addiction.

As it stands FOBTs are perfectly legal. Betting on sports has existed legally in Britain since the 1960s. However, it appears concern about problem gambling has increased significantly post FOBTs.
Cut the talk about advertising and tackle the real problem.

Andy Dobson
Englefield Green

Zero tolerance over cocaine 

In an article by David Jennings (Racing Post, December 5) he highlights the problem of Irish jockeys testing positive for drugs, including cocaine.

He quotes Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan as saying “the vast majority of jockeys have no problem whatsoever and have no issues, but this small minority who have ridden with cocaine in their system have tarnished the image for everyone”.

While one doesn’t like to see the image of racing tarnished, this is a minor aspect of the problem. The most frightening aspect is that this drug can make people act recklessly.

Egan should be focusing on this and realise that the safety aspect is far more important than the sport’s image. People under the influence of cocaine think they can do anything. It is known as an
ego-based drug. Jockeys have been known to use cocaine when their nerve has started to go.

Race-riding is so dangerous that an ambulance follows the jockeys as they work. As a result there should be zero tolerance or sympathy for people who ride under the influence of this drug.

Given the proven usage of the drug by some jockeys there is a case for testing any jockey who engages in careless riding.

Egan is keen to emphasise the support available for people with drug issues, but racing shouldn’t be concentrating on providing help for people who consume Class A drugs. That’s a social problem.

He should focus on identifying these people and protecting the rest of the jockeys from them. He and the Turf Club have a duty of care to the riders who weigh out for every race.

There is no excuse going forward. They know there is a problem so it is imperative they adopt the right attitude.

John Lynam

An example must be made

So trainer David Evans has been fined £6,000 for bringing racing into disrepute. He had a bet on one of his own horses with Ladbrokes, having openly told the firm that his other declared runner was going to be withdrawn.

Ladbrokes have admitted they shortened up the prospective non-runner in order to benefit from the rule 4 deductions that they had prior to the knowledge that the horse was not going to run.

In the city, if a trader uses insider information to frame trading prices he or she faces criminal prosecution. This practice is used by bookmakers every day, not least the exchanges whose deductions are out of touch and abused by people who know about imminent non-runners.

The BHA should make an example of Ladbrokes and impose a punitive fine to discourage this practice continuing.

James Douglas-Mann

Brilliant Bryony a breath of fresh air

I have been following the progress of Bryony Frost for the past few months owing to the fact she is from my area.

I spoke to her at Newton Abbot in June as she entered the paddock to ride Trevisani for Paul Nicholls and told her she could beat Nicky Henderson’s Turn Turk, the 4-9 favourite.

She rode a terrific race and won by three and a half lengths.
On the her way back to the weighing room, with that beaming smile of hers, she said: “You told me I could do it.”

Bryony Frost: a marvellous ambassador for the sport

Since then Bryony has continued to thrill with wins on Bistouri D’Honore at Newton Abbot, Present Man in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton, Black Corton at Cheltenham and Old Guard at Newbury last weekend.

She has a lovely personality and is proving a marvellous ambassador for the sport. The future looks very promising. Good luck Bryony – onwards and upwards.

Mervyn Broom
Kingsbridge, Devon

Secondary market needed to beat touts

Cheltenham Borough Council and the Jockey Club have announced they are going to clamp down on ticket touts (again) and sound terribly pleased with themselves about it.

One could write reams about the flaws in their statement but here are a few brief observations:

Some touts conduct various forms of fraud and this clearly needs to be stamped on very hard. However, a couple of years ago when a friend saw a scam in action near the gate and reported it, neither the police nor racecourse staff seemed very interested. One can be forgiven, therefore, for doubting Jockey Club Racecourses’ resolve on such matters.

The majority of touts are not fraudulent but merely providing a secondary market of a nature the racecourse refuses to provide. Many people buy tickets well in advance more in hope than expectation and then can’t get away from work commitments, or they buy for clients who then cancel.

Others don’t think they can make the festival but their diary clears at the last minute. 

There is clearly a need for a secondary market. Why won’t JCR provide one as some of London’s theatres do?

One estimate said thousands of festival tickets a year change hands through touts. Without the touts, how will those people get to the races if the event has sold out and the racecourse will not get involved?

These are not Wimbledon finals tickets where a small number change hands for fortunes. This is the recycling of unwanted tickets.
Before I became an annual member I often used the touts to buy or sell a ticket.

I seldom had to pay face value and only on Gold Cup day did I have to pay a tenner or so more. In those days a £60 ticket would be bought for £30 or £40 and sold for £50 or £60.

That margin could be earning much-needed money for the racecourse if only they were to get involved.

Chris Williams
Mereworth, Kent

No danger to Jade

I find it strange that Gordon Elliott will not run Apple’s Jade in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Look at the rivals above her in the betting – there is nothing to fear there.

Nichols Canyon is favourite for the race but even Willie Mullins said after last Sunday’s defeat he feels that if they meet again the result will be the same. Also, Unowhatimeanharry was beaten at Newbury last Friday week.

Apple's Jade would look to have everything going for her in the Stayers' Hurdle

Another advantage Apple’s Jade has over her rivals is her mares’ allowance.

I would love to know which horses her trainer fears in the Stayers’ because, as I see it, there is no rival out there who can give her weight and a beating over three miles.

Darren Walker

Whisper so unlucky to pay the penalty

Surely Whisper was one of the unluckiest losers ever in the Ladbrokes Trophy, with the 4lb penalty he picked up for beating Clan Des Obeaux at Kempton on November 13 almost certainly costing him the race.

The conditions of the Ladbrokes Trophy state a horse will incur a 4lb for a chase won after November 5 (7lb for two wins). Clearly, this is designed to pick up any improvement a horse may make after the weights are published, up to the day of the race itself.

However, the BHA’s own Guide to Handicapping, freely available on the internet, states: “In handicaps, because each horse is believed to have an equal chance at the weights, it is reasonable to assume that in almost all cases a horse will have had to improve on its handicap rating to win the race.

“This is not necessarily so in a non-ratings related race, where a horse may have been perfectly entitled to win a race based on simply running to the same (or even a lower) level of form than it had previously achieved.”

Was it fair, then, to give Whisper a penalty for winning a non-handicap race on November 13?

In fact, going into the Ladbrokes Trophy, Whisper was officially rated 157, exactly the same as his mark when the weights for the race were originally allotted.

And this current mark includes the winning performance at Kempton on November 13, so his official rating presumably did not change for that race.

But with the penalty, incurred for winning a non-handicap race, the horse ran off a mark of 161, 4lb above his official rating, and it surely cost him the race.

It would make sense to change the conditions of handicaps like the Ladbrokes Trophy so penalties are incurred only by horses for wins in other handicaps who are therefore likely to be improving.

Kevin Rogers
St Albans, Hertfordshire

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It appears concern about problem gambling has increased significantly post FOBTs
E.W. Terms
Sky bet