Belfast Telegraph

Racecourse owner upbeat despite £600k drop in profits

By Philip Whiterow

Arena Leisure, the racecourse owner reportedly in the takeover sights of industry broadcaster SIS, has revealed that thousands more punters flocked to its meetings over the past six months.

Arena put itself up for sale in June and reports suggested that SIS, the broadcast services business backed by the large bookmaker firms, may decide to make a move depending on the outcome of that review.

SIS and Arena recently agreed a new five-year broadcast deal that will generate £106m for the racecourse group starting next year.

Arena has said that nearly 33,000 more people attended its seven racetracks over the past six months, but profits fell due to cuts in the bookmaker's levy, the industry's way of funding itself.

The company's racecourses at Doncaster, Windsor, Lingfield Park, Southwell, Wolverhampton, Folkestone and Worcester staged 189 fixtures in the half year and Arena said its average attendance increased by 11.3% to 1,667 over the period. Hospitality attendance rose by 8.2% to 18,400.

Profits before interest and tax decreased by £600,000 to £1.4m, primarily as a result of a £1.3m net impact from the reduced levy income.

The yield from the levy has fallen due to the offshoring of internet and telephone betting and the impact of overseas betting operators.

This has resulted in certain fixtures being made available with either no or partial funding for prize money. Chairman David Thorpe said the consumer-driven operations of Arena's business had performed "exceptionally well", against a backdrop of reduced industry funding and the slow economic recovery.

He added: "The Government is in consultation on a reform of the levy scheme and we are encouraged by its recent statements on licensing and taxation of off-shore gaming.

"We believe that the nature of Arena's racecourse estate, in particular the all-weather assets, will be advantageous in the event of a levy replacement that is predicated on a commercial relationship with bookmakers."

Any bid for Arena will require the agreement of leisure entrepreneur Trevor Hemmings, who has a 41.5% stake, while the owners of rival racecourse group Northern Racing, David and Simon Reuben, own another sizeable stake of nearly 30%.

Belfast Telegraph