|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Bill does one thing and one thing only. It will allow the Tote to take bets on non-sporting events. The Tote's betting offices have been hit by the introduction since March of this year by all the bookmakers in their shops of betting on the Irish lottery numbers. This now amounts to as much as 2.5 per cent. of all their off-course turnover. The fact that the Tote has not been allowed to take these bets has meant that since March of this year it is estimated that the Tote has been deprived of over £1 million and that, in a full year, it would be deprived of in excess of £1.5 million. This is money that has been lost to racing. After all, all the profits of the Tote go to racing.
The Tote has some 200 betting offices out of approximately 9,000 off-course betting shops in this country. The problem is that, if a punter goes into a betting shop and cannot get the bet that he wants--and in this case it is the popular amusement of betting on the numbers that are coming out in the Irish draw--he goes into another betting shop where he can get the bet that he wants. Moreover, he may not bring his patronage back to the Tote shop. So it is a serious disadvantage.
Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, I must, first, declare an interest, as I shall be retiring as chairman of the Tote on April 30th of next year. I shall not gain any pecuniary advantage as regards the success or otherwise of the Bill because my salary is fixed in any case. However, it is only proper that I should remind anyone who does not know that I am at present the chairman of the Tote.
We are very much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, for introducing the Bill on behalf of the Tote, which he did in a very concise and correct manner. We are also most grateful to the members of the All Party Racing Committee, who made their supportive views known to the Home Secretary. They have had a great influence and I am very pleased about that fact. We are also grateful to John Greenway, chairman of the All Party Racing Committee, who has agreed to introduce the Bill in another place.
Of course, we are extremely grateful to the Home Secretary and the Government for their support of the Bill. It is a very pleasant surprise. It is a recognition that the Tote is a successful, fully commercial enterprise operating in competition against the biggest bookmaking chains in a cut-throat arena. And if anyone is worried about the supposed political leanings of this chairman over betting on the results of the general election--as this Bill would allow--let me reassure them. It is the weight of the punters' bets which makes the odds, not any chairman for the time being.
I had hoped to dish out nothing but compliments. But, alas, there is still another hurdle to jump. Last February, we asked the Home Office to lay an order enabling us to bet on the Irish lottery numbers. We persistently pressed the point but nothing was done; yet it could have been. This Bill will enable us to bet on the Irish lottery numbers if it gets through its various stages in both Houses of Parliament. But it will take at least four or five months before it can become law, due to the accepted parliamentary procedures.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, said, we have lost punters from our shops in droves because we cannot take their bets on the outcome of the Irish lottery. As the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, said, they go to other shops to place their bets on the Irish lottery but while they are there they also bet on all other kinds of events. A kind of loyalty will develop between that betting shop and a punter and the punter will make a new home there. It will be extremely hard to get him back. Already our betting shop turnover has dropped by some 6 to 7 per cent. since April, whereas our competitors have had much the same turnover as last year on leviable bets. Therefore our turnover has dropped substantially but theirs has remained much the same. They make a fortune out of bets on the Irish lottery, with net profit returns somewhere between 25 to 30 per cent. after betting duty has been levied. Their profits are colossal and they do not have to give half of them to good causes, as do the promoters of the National Lottery, neither do they give anything to racing out of those profits.
If we had been able to take bets on Irish lottery numbers, by this time our profits, instead of declining, would have increased at the rate of £1.5 million a year. That would have happened if it had not been for the Home Office's long and unnecessary delays. We have been pressing this matter ever since February, but the Home Office staff have done absolutely nothing about it. It is particularly sad that the Home Office has procrastinated so long when prize money is being severely cut and we are losing the spectacle of top British horses through the attraction of much higher prize money on the Continent. We could have sponsored 30 races at £50,000, or 50 races at £30,000. That would have been an enormous help to racing, which has been severely hit by the National Lottery. However, due to the delays of the Home Office, we have been unable to do that and that help is lost for ever.
If this Bill is not passed, we shall also be savaged in the new year when the big bookmakers start a separate company to run daily number draws, just like the lottery. As it is, we cannot expand our chain of 200 shops. New acquisitions bought by us would be instantly devalued by our having to stop betting on the Irish lottery numbers. I ask the Government, as humbly as I can, to lay an order instantly to let us accept bets on the Irish lottery numbers. I believe it would take some 40 days for an order that is laid here to get through, instead of the four or five months that this Bill could take. Every moment is absolutely vital to us. We are bleeding copiously at a rate nearing £40,000 a week. That money could have gone to racing, as all our profits do. The principle is included in this Bill, but it has come about much too late. All I am asking is that this part of the provisions should be expedited; tomorrow would be just about right.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, the introduction of the National Lottery changed the face of gambling in this country. The National Lottery is a great success. It raises huge sums for good causes. The Government must be proud of that achievement. However, it has affected other gambling and other expenditure. In 1993-94 total spending on gambling was just over £20 billion. In 1995-96 it was £24 billion, but the lottery accounted for more than £5 billion of that figure. Betting, whether it be through bookmakers or the Tote, has lost its share of the market and has suffered a net cash reduction.
Bookmakers have been able to make up some of this by being allowed to bet on the National Lottery, but the Tote has not been able to do so. During the passage of the lottery Act the Government gave a commitment to monitor the effect of the lottery on racing and on other gambling, and indeed they have done so. The Government have made significant concessions to help the pools companies. I believe that they should make a similar concession by supporting this Bill in order to help the Tote.
Experience in Ireland shows that gambling on the outcome of the Irish lottery has not affected the lottery--if there is any worry about affecting the lottery either here or in Ireland--but rather it has encouraged people to take notice of the lottery. That has been beneficial. The Tote has been put at a disadvantage. Bookmakers estimate that their current turnover of bets on the Irish lottery is about 2 per cent. of their turnover and stands at about £300 million a year. If the Tote were able to have its share of that market that would be a significant amount of money, as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said. I believe that the Government should look closely at whether bookmakers and the Tote should be allowed to bet on the results of the English lottery. I do not think that would harm the lottery. However, that is not the issue before us. This Bill would put the Tote on an equal footing with the bookmakers in that the Tote would be able to take bets on the Irish lottery. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to support the Bill of my noble friend Lord
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I hope I may correct my noble friend Lord Astor. I am pretty certain it was a slip of the tongue when he said that bookmakers were permitted to bet on the lottery. It is, of course, the Irish lottery.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page