'Tangible support' for on-course bookies after racecourses confirm fee freeze
A leading bookmaker has commended the major racecourse groups' decision to waive fees for on-course operators for the remainder of 2020 but suggested more must be done for them in the new year.
Elite sporting venues outside the areas most seriously affected by the coronavirus can host a limited number of spectators when England exits lockdown next Wednesday, with the government set to announce the post-lockdown tiers on Thursday.
Up to 4,000 people will be admitted to outdoor sporting venues in Tier 1, a number which would drop to 2,000 in Tier 2, with racing remaining behind closed doors in Tier 3.
Arena Racing Company (Arc) and the Jockey Club, responsible for 30 of Britain's 60 racecourses, have waived the entrance fee for bookmakers at all fixtures at which spectators are admitted for the rest of 2020, with neither group having charged those operating behind closed doors since the return of owners.
"I doubt there'll be much done for them after this and they certainly deserve more, but yes it is a gesture and it should be commended," said Ben Keith, owner of independent bookmaker Star Sports.
"There’s lots of ways tracks can potentially get more money out of on-course bookmakers with a marketing fee or something like that.
"That’s my concern because on-course bookmakers have been treated with utter contempt for decades and I’m sure when some more money needs to be raised then our fees will be put up."
This week a Racing Post special report revealed the financial plight of on-course bookmakers during the coronavirus pandemic, with many having been unable to operate since March and feeling as if "nobody gives a damn about us".
As such, the reprieve from paying fees was welcomed by bookmaker Keith Johnson, who said: "This tangible support will be for the benefit of many in the industry. As restrictions are eased, we can start to look to the future with more confidence and work together to bring a bit of buzz back to the betting industry."
Extending the fee freeze beyond December into February and March would be helpful to on-course layers, according to Peter Sutton, who also hopes the Welsh government allow spectators to return.
"It's kind of [the racecourses] to waive the fees but I hope they can continue into February or March as that will allow more bookies to feel the benefit of it," he said.
"Most of my pitches are in the south of England but it would be a real boost to have punters for Welsh Grand National day at Chepstow, for example.
"It's a nice surprise to have spectators back as we thought it might not happen until the spring, but they'll probably only be limited pitches that can operate so everyone needs to be looked after still."
In a statement on Tuesday, Mark Spincer, managing director of Arc's racing division, said extending the scheme beyond the end of the year was possible.
"We're acutely aware of the impact the restrictions of recent months have had on on-course bookmakers," he said.
"As such, we'll waive the entrance and marketing fees for any of Arc's 52 meetings from December 2 to the end of the year that can admit spectators. Equally, we'll look at what we can do from January to work with and support our colleagues in the betting ring."
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