Northern Ireland

NI horseracing: Down Royal and Downpatrick warn of funding threat

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Media captionA five-year deal agreed by the courses and bookmakers has ended, as John Campbell reports

Northern Ireland's two racecourses have warned they could face closure in a dispute over funding.

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

In the last year the levy has fallen from £2,000 to £1,123 after the expiry of a five-year deal between the courses and the bookies.

The racecourses say that is putting their future in doubt.

However, the bookies say the fall in funding was always planned.


In 2010 the bookies and the courses agreed the five-year deal that set the levy at £2,000.

That has now ended, but with no new deal in place, it has reverted to the lower level.

Image caption Courses warn they could close but bookies insist the levy deal was a temporary arrangement

The courses say that is no longer adequate to cover the basic costs of organising and running quality race meetings.

Jim Nicholson, the chairman of Down Royal, said: "We've been cut by £175,000 this year.

"If it continues at that level we would be very fearful that within a couple of years, our whole industry could be in absolute crisis."

The worst case scenario painted by the courses is that they could close within three years if the levy does not go up to a " fair and reasonable" level.


However, the bookies point out the higher levy was explicitly a temporary arrangement.

Adrian Eastwood from the bookies association, the NI Turf Guardians, said his industry had supported the courses "to the tune of millions of pounds" over the last 25 years.

He said they had agreed to the 2010 deal when presented with "exceptional circumstances" which needed additional funding.

"The proviso was that at the end of five years the additional funding would cease."

It falls to the Department of Agriculture to referee this dispute as it is responsible for the legislation that controls the levy.

The department said the rate of the levy is currently under review and officials have met representatives of the bookies and the racecourses.

It added that the rate will be "subject to the normal, formal consultation process" and that any changes will be in place in time for 2016.

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