Rust: FOBT stake cut will have an impact – but the sport is not reliant on them
Racing is not reliant on the fate of fixed odds betting terminals, insisted BHA chief executive Nick Rust as he acknowledged the impact on the sport would be detrimental should the government reduce the maximum stake on the machines to £2.
Rust told delegates at the inaugural Horseracing Industry Conference at London's Barbican Centre that the sport supported the government's desire to reduce social harm from problem gambling and believed there should be "radical change".
Last week Arena Racing Company chief executive Martin Cruddace claimed a £2 FOBT stake could potentially be "pretty catastrophic" for British racing and lead to the loss of at least £55 million in income a year if the predictions of large-scale betting shop closures came to pass.
Rust told delegates he believed some of the commentary on the issue had exaggerated the potential impact on racing,"which is unhelpful", although he did concede that a £2 stake could cost the sport £50m a year.
The BHA has made a submission to the government consultation on FOBTs, and Rust said: "We made clear with regard to betting policy the impact that a reduction in FOBT stakes to £2 would have on the short and medium term for our industry.
"There is no getting away from that. Our business model is hooked up to the number of betting shops that are available."
However, Rust added: "It's not for us to interfere in government policy, only to ask government to consider what it has said publicly, which is that it will consider any impact on British racing of any changes to betting policy."
There has been criticism that the sport was "reliant" on the controversial and much-criticised machines, but Rust said: "We are not in a position where we want to say that British racing is reliant on FOBTs. That is not our position."
Rust instead said he believed racing "is on the up", with "positive and healthy signs".
However, he said he was concerned about the industry's ability to retain grassroots staff and that the issue of the sport's people, along with governance, was the BHA's "number one priority".
He added: "Last year we lost more people from the frontline than we recruited - that's the first time for a number of years."
Rust also spoke about the need for a "progressive vision" for equine welfare and, while he defended the use of the whip in racing, he pointed out the difficulties created by perception.
"If we take the issue of the whip, which is much debated in our sport, we believe we have sufficient strong evidence to demonstrate horses are not harmed except on a very, very minor occasions by the current use of the whip as it's regulated in our sport.
"However, the future of the whip is not going to solely be dictated by that. The future of the whip must take into account – as with all welfare issues – perception issues for our sport.
"Therein lies the challenge for equine welfare, the dichotomy sometimes between the evidence and the perception. British racing needs to work hard to ensure perceptions are based on the evidence and that we show a progressive policy and not one that kneejerks to public perception."
Expanding on the issue of diversity, Rust said he believed the sport needed to look at a number of areas, including dress codes.
"If we ask people to wear morning suits does that lead to less likelihood of minority groups feeling they wish to take part in that event if all they see is white men in morning suits?" Rust asked.
"I am not saying these things all should change, but I think we have to look at them."
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