HBF Chair’s Annual Statement, 2017

The Horseracing Bettors Forum recently had its second anniversary, marked by a regular meeting at Nottingham Racecourse at which new members were welcomed and departing members were thanked.

One item on the Agenda was to explain to those newcomers the evolution of HBF in those first two years, a summary of which constitutes some of what follows.

HBF is recognised officially by the BHA, which helped to establish it and continues to assist in its development, but it does not possess statutory powers. It cannot enforce change, however much it might wish for it, but it can seek to influence those who may.

To that end, much of the effort to this point has been in trying to establish HBF’s credibility and in establishing then nurturing relationships with bodies that have influence in the relevant areas.

From a standing start, HBF has persuaded the BHA to make a formal commitment to consider, where relevant, the interests of the betting public in any potential changes to procedures, and to have senior BHA representatives at all HBF meetings to explain BHA policy in matters which affect the British horseracing betting public.

The BHA has been both helpful and receptive, for which HBF is grateful, and HBF has found itself involved in positive developments in a number of areas.

These include: the initiative to reduce non-runners in British racing and their effect on betting markets; the move to 48-hour declarations for the Cheltenham Festival; transparency on balloting on the BHA website; the compulsory declaration of wind operations; and other data initiatives that should follow.

HBF recently contributed to the BHA’s consultation on the future of stewarding. In summary, HBF is in favour of raising standards but remains to be convinced that this will be achieved by an increase in paid stewarding. It recommends that new technologies are embraced and that existing expertise elsewhere within the BHA is harnessed more effectively.

A principal aim of any recommendations from the stewarding review should be to increase the confidence of the British horseracing and betting public in the running of the sport.

HBF is in discussion with BHA about how it can play its part in formal arrangements the latter intends making to bring the betting and racing industries together, under the auspices of the BHA, to the mutual benefit of all.

At the same time, HBF has had regular dealings with the Gambling Commission, including as a representative of the consumer on a GC working party to discuss betting-related matters, and it contributed to the Competition and Markets Authority’s important public consultation. HBF wishes to acknowledge the excellent work being undertaken at the same time by Justice for Punters in these and other areas.

HBF is encouraged to have been contacted recently by the All-Party Parliamentary Betting And Gaming Group to see if it would be interested in contributing to a discussion in Parliament about bookmakers restricting winning betting accounts.

Restrictions and closures of betting accounts (not necessarily just winning ones, either) has been the one topic above all others about which the public has contacted HBF over the last two and a bit years. As Chair, I recently discussed this matter with corporate bookmakers on a trip to Australia, where Minimum Bet Liabilities have not only been implemented but have been met with widespread enthusiasm.

HBF’s position is that betting on racing is a test of skill – which most of us fail! – and not just pure chance, and that it needs to remain aspirational. It needs to be possible that you can win at the game, or at least lose less, by applying skill and discipline. By acquiring skill and interest, the individual in question may well become a long-term supporter of, and advocate for, the sport itself.

To that end, and others, HBF has drawn up a Betting Charter which includes guidelines on minimum-bet guarantees, along with others on protection of funds, problem gambling, terms and conditions, the requirement for bettors to abide by fair and transparent rules in return, and others.

This Charter, which is intended to be for the benefit of all parties, was developed with the assistance of a small number of co-operative bookmakers, and with input from the BHA and the GC. The BHA recently indicated that it would support the Charter, which HBF will share with the public before the end of the year, seeking feedback.

HBF recently shared the Charter with the Association of British Bookmakers and the Remote Gambling Association, inviting those betting-industry trade bodies to help in framing the Charter and in bringing it to the attention of their members.

Achieving wider acceptance of the Betting Charter will be a particular focus for HBF in the year ahead, as will be understanding, explaining and perhaps influencing new pool-betting initiatives, playing a part in the delivery of improvements in horseracing which will also benefit those who bet on the sport, and fostering constructive relationships with others in horseracing and betting.

The message HBF puts out needs always to be informed by the concerns and aspirations of the British horseracing betting public it seeks to represent.

HBF hopes to put in greater effort to connect with that constituency and to understand and represent its views, be that through social media, its website and e-mail facility, or through public appearances and written material. It must, however, be understood that HBF members are giving up their own time for no monetary reward and there is a limit in what they can do.

Those HBF members now number eight, with five having left and four having joined since HBF’s inception, following a public call for new blood earlier this year. There will be public calls for new members in the future.

As Racing Post’s Lee Mottershead wrote recently “…through the creation of the Horseracing Bettors Forum, punters have gained a strong voice…”.

Whether as a future HBF member, or as someone sharing your views on pertinent issues with HBF, you can ensure that voice remains not only strong but effective.

Simon Rowlands

Chair, HBF, November 2017


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