Horse racing

BGC calls for Grand National delay until betting shops reopen

| By Robert Fletcher
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has called for the Grand National to be delayed until after betting shops are permitted to reopen, saying this would provide a “timely boost” for both the racing and gambling sectors.

The 2021 Grand National, the UK’s showpiece horse racing event, is currently due to take place on 10 April at Aintree Racecourse, two days before betting shops will be able to resume operations after following a period of enforced closure due to novel coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday (22 February) confirmed all non-essential retail in England will be able to reopen from 12 April, as part of the country’s roadmap exit from current lockdown measures.

In response, the BGC said that delaying the Grand National until after this date would allow betting shops to cash in on one of the most popular sports betting events in the UK calendar, which would in turn benefit the racing sector that has also suffered heavy losses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The BGC said an estimated £125m (€145m/$176m) is traditionally staked on the race by millions of punters, with nearly half of all bets being placed in high street betting shops, making it their busiest day of the year.

“Delaying the Grand National until betting shops are open is definitely an idea worth exploring,” BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said. “I appreciate that this is not without its challenges, but we are willing to do all we can to help iron out any difficulties.

“Ensuring that the once-a-year punters are able to pop in to their local bookies to have a flutter, supporting their local high street, on the world’s most famous horse race would also help make the Grand National a truly national celebration as we begin to reopen the economy.

“This would also provide a much-needed and timely boost for racing and the high street after such a torrid year for both.”

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) came out in support of the government and its roadmap for easing restrictions, saying it would work with authorities to allow spectators to safely return to racing events as soon as they are allowed.

Unless the Grand National were to be pushed back until last May, it is likely the event would take place behind closed doors for a second successive year.

Sporting events will not be able to welcome spectators until phase three of the roadmap, which will not begin until 17 May at the earliest.

From this date, indoor events will be limited to half capacity or 1,000, while outdoor events can run at half capacity or 4,000 people, and larger venues, with a capacity of 40,000, able to host up to 10,000 fans.

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