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Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing that out. I meant to refer to the Irish lottery but I believe I said they were not allowed to bet on the English National Lottery. However, if I made a slip of the tongue, I am glad that my noble friend has corrected me.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, the noble Viscount did, of course, say that later. Almost every section of the racing industry is represented in your Lordships' House although I am not certain whether there is any longer a bookmaker in these Chambers. I am on my feet at this late hour to demonstrate that this Bill represents a point of great interest and great importance to racing. It would not be desirable to lead the mandarins of the Home Office to suspect--as has happened with other racing Bills in the past--that noble Lords with an involvement in racing do not care what happens to their sport.
As my noble friends have said, racing and betting have changed and are now very different since the current Act came into force in 1972. The lottery is, of course, the biggest factor involved in that, but there is also index betting on football, golf, tiddly-winks and, as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, mentioned, on the results of the general election. That gambling comprises a large section of the betting cake. It is estimated that 30 per cent. of betting turnover is concerned with events in which the Tote is not allowed to participate.
Yesterday a number of your Lordships heard representatives of the Betting Office Licensees Association lamenting their losses and the lack of turnover which they have suffered as a result of the lottery. They gave many figures, some of which I would view with a certain amount of suspicion. They are looking for reductions in tax incurred in off-course betting shops to give them what is vulgarly called a level playing field with the lottery. The Tote's playing field is on a steep and slippery slope compared with that of the bookmakers, a slope which this Bill will do something to level. It will enable the Tote to recover some of the serious disadvantage in which it is placed. As matters now stand the situation may become worse with the suggestion, as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said, that the bookmakers invent a series of numbers and invite people to bet on them.
Within the past week a senior representative of the bookmakers' organisation has expressed his total lack of interest in the financial problems of horseracing. The Tote, on the contrary, cares and does something about it. The Home Office is about to select by democratic means, it is said, and I am sure your Lordships will believe that, a successor to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. I trust that he will have this additional weapon in his armoury to attack the old enemy.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I am perfectly prepared to let the noble Lord precede me if he wishes. I had just asked him whether we were to have the benefit of his contribution since his name is not on the list.
The Bill arrived on my desk with a brief note asking, "Does anyone know anything about this?" It so happens that on our Benches, anything to do with racing, gambling or matters of that kind usually falls to me to deal with. It makes me conscious that I am probably the only Peer on our Benches who has had a misspent youth. In my school days I ran a pool and was also the school bookmaker for a while, at enormous risk to myself. The bookmaking was profitable. In fact, the two ran well together. I am glad that there is no right reverend Prelate in your Lordships' House tonight; our pool was run on the length of sermons at Sunday evening chapel. I made no profit out of the pool. Indeed, pools are not intended to make profits but we shall come to that later. However, it was good to engender the mood to draw people to chapel each morning. I made a profit out of backing horses, although in those days it was extremely difficult to lay the money off. They were probably the most dangerous days of my life.
I have tangled previously with the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, on the subject of betting shops and their opening hours. I may have overstated my reservations on that occasion. I hope that anything I say tonight which may savour of a reservation will not be picked up by, I think, the only tabloid newspaper which is not in your Lordships' House, the Daily Sport. On the last occasion, it so objected to
The Bill is extremely interesting. I have every sympathy with everything said in the debate, in particular by the noble Lords, Lord Kimball, and Lord Wyatt of Weeford. The Tote has always had an uphill struggle against bookmakers. That is the anomaly in our country. It is not the case in most countries. For example, in Australia all off-course betting is a Tote monopoly and bookmakers are allowed only on the race course. However, we can do nothing about that. Bookmaking has a long history and tradition. Bookmakers are here to stay.
It should have been foreseen that the Tote would probably be the major sufferer from the advent of the lottery, not only because of betting on the lottery numbers but also because people who may spend £5 a week on the racecourse at a Tote or betting shop are likely now to spend less on that and to buy scratchcards or a lottery ticket. In addition, as has been explained this evening, betting on the Irish lottery numbers has made considerable inroads into the profitability of the Tote.
I have absolutely no idea of the Government's reaction to the Bill and what fair wind it will have in another place. I refer to the activities of a bookmaker, and of a pool organisation, which is what the Tote is effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, talked about the profitability of the Tote. There is profitability but it is not real profitability because there is no loss expectation in the Tote. The Tote takes from the pool, pays for the privilege of operating the pool by giving money back to racing, which is commendable, and pays its expenses. A bookmaker has a potential liability if his business does not run at a profit. At school the bookmaking was carefully controlled and I was able to lay off excess bets. On a small scale, if one has any arithmetical ability, one can balance one's book and make a small percentage profit. That is exactly what bookmakers tell us they do when pressed for more money by the levy board. They say that it is an unprofitable business, forgetting that we may ask questions about the style of living of bookmakers, and so on.
I hope that the noble Earl will be able to answer these questions. Half of me hopes that the Bill will pass through its stages successfully. I should like to see the Tote board profit and able to compete with bookmakers. The other half of me asks: how will the Horserace Totalisator Board organise the business of being a bookmaker and the operator of a pool? How
The Home Office is responsible under statute for the Tote board. What are the Government doing, metaphorically picking up the check suit and satchel of the bookmaker, when they are divesting themselves of involvement in owning property and other matters, probably quite properly? We have debated those subjects in this House. Some of us object to them more than others.
I have every sympathy with the Bill. But are there not difficulties in keeping the two operations apart, and limiting the activities of the bookmaker? Presumably most of the major bookmakers are opposed to the Bill. They do not want another competitor in the market place. The bookmaking lobby is very powerful, as we all know.
From these Benches I have absolute sympathy with everything that has been said now that the uphill task which the Tote has always had in competing with bookmakers has been made more severe as a result of the lottery. It has every right to ask that its ability to operate should extend into the area of competing with bookmakers. If the Government are supporting the legislation--they may not be, and I wait anxiously to hear--will the noble Earl tell the House (he will tell us anyway, since if he objects to it presumably these points represent some of the objections) how the liabilities will be underpinned should the bookmaking business be unprofitable for whatever reason? Bookmaking businesses do get into trouble from time to time--
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