Talking Horses: Jockey Club’s Playtech deal defense leaks a lot | horse racing

AN A couple of months after causing widespread shock and consternation in the sport by selling some of his most prized name and image rights to gaming giant Playtech, Nevin Truesdale, CEO of the Jockey Club, poked his head over the east parapet. Weekend to Defend Playtech covers and discusses all things Jockey Club, in a fascinating interview with Racing Post lead writer Lee Mottershead.

The Playtech deal, Truesdale said, had been “a bit of a misunderstanding.” The fast-play products that will be allowed to parasitize events like the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National are, he said, “very safe and have been around for years, with close links to racing. For us, it’s about saying, if this is already happening using brands closely associated with ours, and if we’re in a position to make some money off of that, shouldn’t we get involved?

As defenses go, Derby County’s defensive line in their disastrous 2007–08 Premier League campaign was flawless by comparison. It has a big hole in the middle, where the plot should be. “Misunderstood” is the first clue, the first word that CEOs (and politicians too) tend to use when they do something that everyone else thinks is a terrible idea. In politics, it is the sure sign of an imminent U-turn. In business, unfortunately, five-year contracts are much more difficult and expensive to cancel.

Of more concern, however, is Truesdale’s persistent failure to see the Playtech deal in the context of the major regulatory change that is sure to unravel in Britain’s gaming industry long before the deal is even halfway through. These “close ties” between gaming (in fixed-edge casino products) and variable-edge betting, in racing and other sports, are the result of the irruption of gaming into racing territory since the Act of Gaming of 2005 eliminated most of the previous distinctions between the two.

The biggest brands in British gaming have been making hay ever since, first absorbing billions of pounds from, for the most part, the country’s most deprived areas through £100-a-spin gaming machines, and also through vigorous cross-promotion. gaming products to sports bettors whenever possible.

But they were never going to get away with it forever, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, a heavy rain would fall. The vital question for racing is how much of it will fall specifically on gaming, which is known to have much higher rates of problem gambling than betting, and how much will soak into everything else.

The most sensible plan is for the races to be as far away from the games as possible when the skies open. The Jockey Club Playtech deal is more akin to standing under the tallest tree when it feels like thunder is in the air.

While Truesdale has drawn criticism, however, it can only act with the approval of the Jockey Club delegates, the organization’s equivalent of a board of directors. The Playtech contract could not have been signed without their approval, so who, exactly, should take ultimate responsibility?

Oddly enough, and at least for the time being, it’s not an easy question for an interested racing fan to answer. You’d expect any normal business with an annual turnover of over £200m to list its board of directors somewhere on its website, but for several months now the only person with a profile on the Jockey’s website Club has been Sandy Dudgeon, the senior butler.

A call to the Jockey Club reveals that while there are normally seven stewards, as of January 1 this year there have been eight. The lack of biographies on the website for the last three and a half months is apparently due to the lack of photos of two new members, Carolyn Warren and William Wyatt, and will be corrected shortly.

The other five trustees are Lord Teddy Grimthorpe, Dido Harding, Tim Syder, Justin Dowley and William Rucker. Only two of them would be instantly recognized by any significant number of racing fans, and probably only one for racing-related reasons.

But gender aside, they’re all fairly typical of the people who have run the Jockey Club throughout its 272-year existence, mostly as the sport’s ruler and regulator and, since 1993, as its most powerful business group. . They are immersed in racing, often from birth, and for the most part also as owners and breeders. They work without pay, they certainly share the fans’ passion for the sport and have the same interest in seeing it prosper.

At the same time, however, it inevitably feels increasingly obsolete that self-proclaimed clubs of people who were born with a 20-length advantage should be in total control of such power, wealth, and influence in an industry that employs tens of thousands of people. persons. Short-sighted and strategically inept choices like the Playtech contract can only increase scrutiny.

Handing over the good name of some of the sport’s crown jewels to a gaming company was a betrayal of racing interests, for short-term profit, by a body operating under a Royal Charter that obliges it to act for the long-term good of the sport as a whole. That obligation should have been the first thing they thought of when Playtech called and wondered “why not?”