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'There's a real illiteracy in parliament around racing' - MP warns of uphill task sport faces to win over Westminster

Conor McGinn: "It is going to be tough. We are the last of the mohicans"
Conor McGinn: "It is going to be tough. We are the last of the Mohicans"

Racing was warned of a “real illiteracy in parliament around horseracing and gambling” ahead of the long-awaited Commons debate on affordability checks.

MPs in Westminster Hall will consider on February 26 the proposals in the Gambling Act review white paper to introduce potentially damaging financial checks. But Conor McGinn, co-chair of the all-parliamentary group for racing and bloodstock, fears he and racing’s other supporters will find things tough in a debate called as a result of the successful petition against checks instituted by Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale.

“There is a real illiteracy in parliament around horseracing and gambling,” said the independent, ex-Labour MP, whose constituency includes Haydock and who was addressing a Racing Together industry day at Chester racecourse. “I look at my own party and gone are the days of working-class MPs from communities where racing and bookies were part of them as much as the wider community.

“There are people who stand up in parliament, and pontificate and expound on racing and gambling, who have never placed a bet, but they speak with all the moral authority and superiority of people who want to tell those of us who do how we should spend the money we earn, what the approved activities one should engage in are.

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“I think it’s about time we said that’s not the job of government or of politics. It’s not about making a moral judgment on how people live their lives. Let’s get on the front foot on this. I pay tribute to the leadership shown by partner organisations across racing, particularly Nevin and the petition.”

Looking ahead to the debate, McGinn said: “It is going to be tough. We are the last of the Mohicans, the little group of us in parliament who want to stand up for the punter and for racing. But we’re going to do that on February 26 and government is listening.”

McGinn criticised the sport’s failure to get involved in the fight earlier, but said: “It’s better late than never and the work that racing has done on affordability checks has been welcome and frankly has made the government sit up and listen far more than it did when it was just the gambling industry talking about this.

“We have overcome a reluctance based on some delusion and some snobbery in racing about gambling and our association with it. We are inextricably linked and we need to own that. Responsible gambling is an inextricable part of what we do and it’s fun.”

McGinn also criticised racing's failure to establish links with a possible incoming Labour government.

He said: "Labour need to win 126 seats to get a majority of one and that is a big ask, but the likelihood is there will be a Labour government with a working majority – although there is a lot of road to run between now and then – and I am slightly worried about where racing is with Labour. I think we’re in danger of arriving late at the party, literally and metaphorically.

“I’ve never seen anyone in racing as being any type of political stripe or colour, but that’s not always the view in Westminster and it certainly isn’t always the view in the Labour Party. There is still a perception that racing is posh, it’s run by toffs, it’s heavily identified with the Conservative Party. None of that is true, it’s very unfair, but it’s difficult to change that and sometimes the discourse with parliament is through those who might be identified as that.

Conor McGinn: "There is still a perception that racing is posh, it’s run by toffs, it’s heavily identified with the Conservative Party"
Conor McGinn speaks at a Racing Together industry day at Chester racecourse: "There is still a perception that racing is posh, it’s run by toffs, it’s heavily identified with the Conservative Party," he said

“My sense is most Labour MPs don’t think about racing. We are competing for people’s attention so we’ve got to make it more relevant.”

McGinn, who is standing down at the election, added: “I worry about some of the lack of depth of knowledge of an incoming government of either party about racing and issues like welfare and gambling, so we need to work on that. I don’t think it’s insurmountable, but we need to be ruthless and identify where, who and how we can influence and do the influencing.

“I’m not overly concerned they’re going to do anything bad, but I’m not necessarily optimistic they’re going to be great supporters of the sport and do what we want out of them, and in the end that’s on us to try and fix.”

However, McGinn believes the election campaign gives racing an opportunity to get its voice heard, and said: “We have a unique reach, the thousands of people we employ directly and indirectly, the fact we’re a multi-billion pound industry that is essential to the British economy and we need to flex our muscles over the next few months.”

However, he warned that racing needs to “pick its battles” as it campaigns for reform to the levy that funds the sport.

“We’ve got to acknowledge we got a lot of support from government through Covid and we’re in a unique position in that the Levy Board is involved in the heart of everything our sport does,” he said.

“We need to be careful about how we approach any aspect of levy reform, and what we certainly don’t want is taking more through that then losing some out the back door in terms of sponsorship and our relationship with gambling. I say that gently as a note of caution from an observer – think long term.”


Read more on the Gambling Review here

'Poor relation' - British racing at risk of being marginalised if affordability checks accelerate prize-money decline, warns Angus Gold 

Gambling minister Stuart Andrew: affordability debate at Westminster 'an important opportunity' 

David Redvers: affordability checks could have 'catastrophic' impact on British racing's international standing 


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David CarrReporter

Published on 8 February 2024inGambling review

Last updated 19:31, 8 February 2024

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