Newbury to review prize-money investment in face of betting shop closures

Newbury racecourse has said it will be "carefully reviewing" its investment in prize-money at the track due to the "significant risk" of falling income caused by betting shop closures.

The warning came as the course unveiled its interim results for the first six months of 2019 on Tuesday.

Betting shop numbers have started to fall following the implementation of the new £2 stake on FOBTs in April, which is expected to have a major effect on racecourse finances due to reduced income from media rights.

The importance of those rights was highlighted in Newbury's results which said it had received total media-related revenues of £2.39 million, an increase of four per cent on the same period in 2018, which was "attributable to increased LBO [licensed betting office] revenues".

Earlier in the year Newbury said it would maintain prize-money levels of £5m in 2019 despite the uncertainty over future income created by the government's crackdown on FOBTs.

However, prize-money levels at Newbury have already been criticised by trainers, including last month when a Listed race offered just £14,461 to the winner.

In his statement in the results announcement, Newbury chairman Dominic Burke said: "Whilst in the first half of the year we did not see any material decline in our LBO revenues, post April's FOBT reform, this remains a significant risk as we move forwards. 

"Betting shops have so far been closing at a slower rate than previously anticipated, however the board expects this to accelerate in the second half of 2019 and into 2020. Because of this, the board will be carefully reviewing its prize-money investment over the coming period."

Newbury said turnover had increased three per cent to £7.57m in the first six months of the year, while reporting an operating loss of £300,000.

While the course lost its valuable Betfair Hurdle card in February as a result of the equine influenza outbreak, Newbury said it was insured "so the financial loss was largely mitigated".

Burke added: "We expect some challenges around LBO revenues in the second half of 2019, but with two incredibly strong music events and continued positive trends in our non-racing businesses, we remain confident in the financial outturn for the remainder of 2019, in line with our long-term strategy."