Friday, August 07, 2009

Graham Cunningham on Hills and Ladbrokes

Below is piece by Graham Cunningham (my favourite racing broadcaster despite him refusing to print off my racing figures at Pontefract one day...claiming there was no printer in there) which was buried in a recent Betfair piece.

If I ever end up on Mastermind then you can bet 1.01 with confidence that racing politics will not be my specialist subject.

However, the news that William Hill and Ladbrokes are taking their internet betting operations abroad in order to minimise their tax burden really began to grate on me as this week has worn on.

It wasn't so much the fact that big businesses want to find ways to make more money that grated - more the brazen way in which Hills chief executive Ralph Topping seemed intent on blaming everyone bar himself for the decision to head offshore.

Topping probably has a point in describing racing's leadership as "a rabble," but he is well wide of the mark when calling the move to stage the Derby on Saturday "a numpty decision" and really showed his true colours when insisting that racing should realise it is a mere betting product rather than a true sport to rival the likes of the Ashes and the FA Cup.

It's hard to envisage anyone with such a view going out of his way to help racing to any real extent, but what should the sport do in response to the projected loss of around £5m in Levy payments?

Better brains than mine need to provide the answer to that, but it wouldn't do any harm for newspapers and television channels to start restricting the amount of print and airtime given to the omnipresent PR representatives of firms who head offshore.

For example, the Racing Post devoted the first three pages of its Friday edition to the news that Ladbrokes are heading offshore but sugared the pill to one of its biggest advertisers with an adjacent and blatant puff piece about a punter who could win £1m if Red Merlin wins the Ebor to complete his £250 ante post treble.

"Both we and the punter are set for a fortnight of sleepless nights," said Ladbrokes' incorrigible PR spokesman David Williams.

I don't know about the punter, but I've often wondered how Williams, Topping and the rest of their merry gang sleep at night.

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