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Racecourses fear closure over cut to bookmaker's levy: Down Royal and Downpatrick racecourses attempting to block Government proposals

By Deborah McAleese

Published 12/09/2015

Enjoying the Summer Race Evening at Down Royal Racecourse yesterday were Dame Mary Peters and David Anderson
Enjoying the Summer Race Evening at Down Royal Racecourse yesterday were Dame Mary Peters and David Anderson
Michelle Wylie and Orlaith McAllister
Gemma McClure and Catherine Logue

Northern Ireland's two racecourses are fighting a battle for survival amid concerns that proposed funding changes could result in their closure.

Down Royal and Downpatrick racecourses are attempting to block Government proposals, which they have warned would make their future "untenable".

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is expected to wade in behind the racecourses and demand that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) rethinks its proposed changes to the Horse Racing Fund - the rates paid by on-course and off-course bookmakers.

Most of the money for the upkeep of Down Royal and Downpatrick comes from an annual levy paid by every bookmaker's shop.

In the last year the levy has fallen from £2,000 to £1,1234 after the expiry of a five-year deal. DARD has put forward fresh proposals for a new levy of £2,350, to reduce to £1,450 after five years.

However, the courses have warned that, based on current costs, both would operate at a loss under this option.

The racecourses want an increase in the rate collected to £4,374 per shop.

At a meeting on Monday night councillors will be asked to support a recommendation to write to DARD and advise it that this is the only viable option.

In a written submission to councillors ahead of the meeting, the management of both courses said that DARD's proposal would "severely restrict" the level of racing that they can deliver and could ultimately put the courses into a loss-making position "to the point where the future of both may become untenable".

Councillors were told that "a reduction in the quantity and quality of racing and the potential loss of one or both racecourses would have a significant negative impact on tourism and hospitality in both the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area and the Borough of Lisburn and Castlereagh".

Mike Todd of Down Royal recently warned money was being lost and the "situation is dire".

"All we are asking for is the bookmakers to pay a fair and equitable amount," he said.

Last year the contribution from local betting shops, as well as the on-course bookmakers, to the Horse Racing Fund was more than £700,000. This year it has been cut to around £360,000.

The courses have said this is no longer adequate to cover the basic costs of organising and running quality race meetings.

They have also warned that they could close within three years if the levy does not go up to a "fair and reasonable" level.

Belfast Telegraph

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