Laurence Robertson is the Conservative MP for Tewkesbury. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.
For horseracing fans like myself, Christmas isn’t just about exchanging gifts and filling up on turkey before the Queen’s Christmas Day broadcast – it also ushers in a National Hunt bonanza.
On Boxing Day alone there were no fewer than eight race meetings, with the highlight being the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.
As we cope with the latest Covid wave, I believe that sport takes on an even greater significance, providing a welcome distraction from the pandemic, at least for a few hours.
As the MP for Tewkesbury, with Cheltenham Racecourse in my constituency, I am also well aware of the huge economic contribution that racing makes to the local area. And across the UK, it supports 85,000 jobs and contributes £3.5 billion to the economy, as well as being a source of great pleasure to millions of fans.
But like other sports, racing has suffered as a result of the pandemic, lockdown and the absence of fans, depriving it of much-needed revenue. That’s why the support provided by the regulated betting and gaming industry is so important. Horseracing receives around £350 million in sponsorship, media rights and the betting levy from bookmakers, which has proved to be vital during the pandemic.
The close relationship between betting and horseracing is well known, with having a flutter being an intrinsic part of the racing experience for many people. That’s why I’m pleased that every racecourse in the country is committed to promoting safer gambling and signposting the wide range of help and advice that is available. As the Racecourse Association says: “Bookmakers are longstanding and key commercial partners of the sport and provide the opportunity for further promotion of safer gambling to a large audience.”
It’s not just the sport of horse racing that benefits from the betting and gaming industry’s financial support, of course. The English Football League and its 72 clubs receive around £40 million from the regulated industry, while snooker, rugby league and darts receive millions more from the same source.
But it’s not just a case of signing a cheque once a year, welcome though that is. The industry is also keenly aware of its responsibilities when it comes to promoting safer gambling.
Take SkyBet’s sponsorship of the EFL, for example. As part of that arrangement, the operator has put in place a £1 million five-year safer gambling education programme for all 72 clubs, delivered by EPIC Risk Management. As well as that, players’ sleeve badges also promote responsible betting, while digital perimeter boards promote TalkBanStop for one minute every match.
It was also great to see perimeter advertising at a recent West Ham v Spurs match given over to the Betting and Gaming Council’s new Take Time To Think campaign, which promotes the use of safer gambling tools.
In addition, BGC members ensure that at least 20 per cent of their TV and radio adverts are safer gambling messages, meaning the millions of armchair fans enjoying live sport over the festive period are made aware of the help and tools that are available.
The most recent data from the Gambling Commission – which showed problem gambling rates falling from 0.6 per cent to 0.3 per cent in the 12 months to September – suggest that the work the regulated industry is doing to promote safer gambling is having an effect. I’m very pleased to see this.
Nevertheless, there is always more to do, and I look forward to the publication in the New Year of the White Paper as part of the Government’s Gambling Review. While a review is undoubtedly needed, I hope that nothing is introduced which puts at risk the vital financial support the industry provides to our much-loved sports, or indeed damages the equally important safer gambling work which runs alongside it.