By Paull Khan
There have now been no fewer than five European Commission decisions, over the past five years, which have given the green light to member states wishing to introduce state aid in favour of their horseracing industries and which should be of great interest and encouragement to a number other European racing industries. If lessons can be learnt from these cases, this may help the racing industries in other European countries construct the arguments necessary to follow suit, thereby improving the financial health of our sport across the region.
Racing authorities the world over are engaged in conversations with their governments, seeking to establish, protect, or maximise statutory funding for horse racing as well as to safeguard the future health and stability of the industry and that of the breed. Normally, this funding takes the form of a statutory return to horseracing from betting.
So, typically, the racing authority must first provide good arguments to answer the question of why government should support such a guaranteed return to horseracing from betting (which would normally constitute special treatment for the sport). Then, in many cases, a further question has to be successfully answered: “Why should Government feel confident that objections on the grounds of state aid will be overcome?”
These five decisions – relating to France and Germany (in 2013) and to the UK, Finland, and Denmark (last year), are examples of racing authorities not only having convinced their governments to provide such assistance, but also of their governments having successfully argued before the European Commission that the measures introduced constituted ‘compatible’ (ie admissible) forms of state aid. These decisions should be of interest to those racing industries that either:
have no current statutory support, but where their government either allows, or is contemplating allowing, betting operators independent of the sport to take bets on their racing, or
have statutory support, but where the level of that support can be demonstrated to be insufficient to sustain the country’s racing industry, and/or the terms of that support can be shown to be in some way unfair.