British racing faces a “clear and present danger” if the government gets changes to gambling law wrong and the next few weeks are "absolutely critical" to the sport's future, the gambling industry’s trade body chief has warned.
Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher told UK racing that the betting industry's fight was their fight as well, with ministers expected to publish a gambling review white paper soon.
Dugher, a former Labour MP and shadow culture spokesman, described himself as a "passionate devotee" of racing, but said stakeholders within the sport need to stop squabbling among themselves and concentrate on the pressing matter of the gambling review.
"Racing without betting simply wouldn't exist," he said in an interview with the Racing Post. "The racing industry needs to get real and understand that, realise that our fight is their fight and the coming weeks are absolutely critical to their future."
It comes as the BGC has upped the ante in fighting back against potentially draconian changes in the white paper that could hit operators as well as a range of sports, including football.
The trade group has highlighted on social media in the past few days moves the gambling industry are taking to protect vulnerable gamblers and research claiming there is no evidence that sponsorship of football clubs or leagues influences participation in betting.
Affordability checks for punters are expected to be one of the recommendations of the review, but there are widespread concerns that should the checks be too intrusive — with customers expected to provide bank statements and payslips to prove they could afford to bet — it could result in a massive blow to racing and sports finances.
It is claimed checks triggered by a monthly loss of £100 could cost UK racing £60m a year or more per annum.
A YouGov poll found fewer than one in five punters would be willing to let betting companies access their bank accounts or wage slips in order to have a flutter. It showed that just 16 percent of those who enjoy a bet would submit themselves to so-called “affordability checks”.
There are also concerns about the impact that calls for bans on betting sponsorship and television advertising could have on racing — with ITV's coverage of the sport a potential victim — and minority sports such as rugby league.
Dugher described the suggestion that racing could survive unscathed from any reforms reducing the size of the regulated gambling industry as "just naive".
He said: “People in the racing industry … really need to get themselves together and say there is huge amounts of commonality here, not least a clear and present danger to the future of their sport, and everyone in racing needs to get off their backside."
The British Horseracing Authority has said it fully supports the review's objectives, although there has been widespread concern within the sport about some of the potential outcomes.
The call from the BGC comes as anti-gambling campaigners are also intensifying their efforts to bring in tougher restrictions.
A new report from the Centre for Labour and Social Studies and Clean Up Gambling, looking at the public health implications of the gambling industry, claims the industry is exploitative and deliberately targeting women.
It made 12 recommendations to reduce harm, including a ban on marketing to repeat customers and a limit on advertising between midnight and 4am.
Last week, gambling minister Chris Philp pledged that the government wanted to ensure the gambling review would not "undermine the financial condition" of UK racing.
Details of the government's proposals for gambling reform were initially due to be published before Christmas, but the white paper is now expected around Easter or in May.
Meanwhile, a Tory MP who has been paid £32,000 by the betting industry sent private letters to ministers warning them about the consequences of introducing tough new laws on “harmless gambling”.
The Times claimed an email sent by Laurence Robertson, who is reportedly paid £2,000 a month by the BGC, to the gambling minister warned of the risks of tougher legislation. Robertson urged Nigel Huddleston, then the gambling minister, to relax restrictions on horseracing venues.
“I do hope that you can help move this situation on, as the employment futures of very many people, together with considerable revenues to the Exchequer and the future of spectator sport, could certainly be cast in much doubt,” he said.