Bookies lose turf war with racecourses over rights to broadcast pictures - Friday 8th of August 2008

Some of Britains best-known race courses, including Ascot, Newmarket and Cheltenham, have won a bitter legal battle with leading bookmakers over the rights to market pictures for broadcasting in betting shops.

The victory in effect breaks a 20-year monopoly where the buying of all media rights was carried out by a firm controlled by high-street bookmakers.

The move affirms the legitimacy of Turf TV, a joint venture backed by 31 race courses, including 13 of the 14 tracks owned by the Jockey Club. It is the sole rival to Satellite Information Services (SIS), a business which since its formation in 1987 has been controlled by the large bookmakers.

Alan Morcombe, executive chairman of Turf TV, said: "We are delighted with this outcome ... This is a judgment that allows Turf TV to continue in business and maintains healthy competition in the supply of picture and data services."

Asked why it had taken so long for a competitor to emerge, Simon Bazalgette, chief executive designate of the Jockey Club, said: "We were dealing with an entrenched monopoly supported by Ladbrokes and [William] Hills to an extraordinary extent."

Last night, several betting shop chains privately repeated warnings that attempts by the racetracks to wring more financial value from media rights were likely to have knock-on consequences for the amount of money bookmakers handed back to track operators through other channels, particularly through the horse-racing levy and race sponsorship.

Bazalgette dismissed these suggestions, noting that last years levy had risen to record levels and race sponsorship was still being taken up by bookmakers. After Turf TVs launch in January last year, most leading bookmakers refused to sign up to the new service, claiming prices were too high. But in June last year the government-owned Tote broke ranks.

There followed a flurry of private emails between directors of the Association of British Bookmakers, read out in court, which laid bare the disappointment felt at this decision. ABBs chairman, Warwick Bartlett, wrote: "The Tote are irredeamable [sic] bastards and everyone their [sic] should have been shot at birth. Members of the ABB? I dont think so."

Six months later, despite the court action against Turf TV having commenced, Coral also signed up to the new service, withdrawing its participation in the legal claim. Unable to afford to boycott the service any longer, Ladbrokes and William Hill reluctantly followed suit, but continued to pursue their legal claim. They told investors the additional media rights would cost about £10m a year.

Of the big five, only the privately owned Betfred has held out. It too is expected to sign up to Turf TV now, after admitting in court that not having the pictures was harming business.

In a written judgment, Mr Justice Morgan threw out the bookmakers claim against Turf TV. He even suggested some of their claims "stood arguments as to competition on their head".

The judge is expected to rule in the autumn on a counter-claim alleging the bookmakers colluded to prevent Turf TV entering the marketplace. That ruling is expected to be closely watched by the Office of Fair Trading.

The court ruling is also a major victory for Alphameric - a joint venture partner in Turf TV, providing the technology - which was on the brink of collapse last year.

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