HL Deb 12 June 1934 vol 92 cc1025-36

Provisions regulating the establishment and operation of totalisators on dog racecourses.

1. A totalisator set up under this Act on a dog racecourse shall be a mechanically or electrically operated apparatus complying with such conditions as a Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe.

2. The person, whether the occupier of the track or a person authorised in writing by the occupier, by whom the totalisator is operated (in this Schedule referred to as "the operator") shall distribute or cause to be distributed the whole of the moneys staked on any race or races by means of the totalisator among the persons winning bets made by means of the totalisator on that race or those races, after deducting or causing to be deducted such percentage, not exceeding three per cent., as he may from time to time determine:

Provided that—

  1. (a) where the amount payable to a person winning a bet includes a fraction of a penny, that fraction of a penny may be retained by the operator; and
  2. (b) the terms on which the operator invites persons to bet by means of the totalisator may include a condition entitling the operator to retain any sum payable to a person winning a bet, unless the money won on the bet is claimed within a specified time.

LORD ASKWITH moved to insert at the end of paragraph 1: "Provided that the Secretary of State may permit types of apparatus not being mechanically or electrically operated for double-event pool betting." The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an attempt to give some chance to the totalisator of being used with effect on the courses in any form subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. This would allow a totalisator for double-event betting to be employed in the manner in which it is used upon horse racecourses, and in which it was used upon greyhound courses. It is true that mechanical and electrical contrivances may in the future be very valuable. I do not think that they cost quite as much as I ventured on the Committee stage to suggest, but still they are extraordinarily expensive at present, and must be with their complication of machinery, and, however good they may be, they can only be operated with very considerable difficulty, at any rate at present.

In the Bill, in Clause 18 (1), the totalisator is defined as the contrivance for betting known as the totalisator or pari mutuel, or any other machine or instrument of betting of a like nature, whether mechanically operated or not. That definition seems to allow the hand system, which can be controlled quite as well by the accountant as the machine system, and which can be prevented from being a fraudulent machine by overlooking. Moreover, as I have said, before, it is one that is in constant use. Then under Clause 3 it is stated that pari mutual betting must be "in accordance with the provisions of this Act which relate to totalisators on dog racecourses." When we come to the provisions for dog racecourses, we find that the apparatus must be "mechanically or electrically operated"—a contradiction in the Bill and, in practical working, very unsatisfactory. To give the pari mutuel a power and then to debar it from being used in the manner in which it is used on horse racecourses, and in which it has been used on greyhound courses, seems to be a sort of denial of the very thing you give. You give with one hand and then take away with the other. I therefore suggest that this is a reasonable Amendment. Any abuse will be prevented by putting the matter into the hands of the Home Secretary. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 8, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Askwith.)


My Lords, the Bill proposes in paragraph 1 of the First Schedule that a totalisator set up by the occupier of a licensed dog track shall be a "mechanically or electrically operated apparatus complying with such conditions as a Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe." The Amendment proposes that for double-event pool betting the Secretary of State may permit types of apparatus which are not mechanically or electrically operated. The reason for this proposal is that double-event pools have in the past been operated manually and not through a machine; and that the expense of installing electrical or mechanical apparatus for double-event pools would be very high. It is very well known that the operation of a totalisator affords considerable scope for fraudulent practices and the object of the proposal in the Bill, that totalisators on dog tracks must be electrically or mechanically operated, is to provide safeguards against fraudulent operation. From the point of view of the prevention of fraud it makes no difference whether the bets are on single events or on double events. It is an integral part of the scheme of supervision proposed in the Bill that the totalisator should be of a mechanical or electrical type, and to waive that requirement in respect of one type of totalisator betting would make nonsense of the proposals in the Bill. The Government could not entertain the idea of legalising the use of the totalisator on dog tracks, without the requirement that the totalisator should be so constructed as to minimise the possibilities of fraud. One of the simplest measures for this purpose is to require the use of an instrument which will show at a glance the progress of the betting in respect of each competitor and the total in the pool at each stage of the betting.

I think the noble Lord will agree with me that dog racing and horse racing are not really on the same terms. The totalisator on a horse racecourse is controlled by a Board and is not operated for the benefit of the racecourse in any shape or form. The difficulty in connection with dog racing, I think the noble Lord will agree, is the possibility of fraud and the possibility of the totalisator being operated for the benefit of those responsible for the track. I think he must recognise that it is incumbent on the Government to do what they can, consistent with the primary duty of restricting betting, to see that where betting is carried on it should be carried on in the most respectable and reputable manner possible with the absence of any kind of fraud. I would like to gain the noble Lord's agreement for the statement that it is absolutely necessary for the Government to resist the Amendment which he has proposed, and I hope he will not press his Amendment.


My Lords, I cannot at this time of the evening press my Amendment, but I must say that this paragraph of the Schedule simply prevents double-event betting which is supposed to be allowed by the Bill, and I can only stigmatise the suggestion of fraud as positively ridiculous. Tickets are sent out and are serially numbered. They are checked, and there is almost an impossibility of fraud. No fraud has been discovered that I am aware of with this type of pool on horse racing or, up to the present time, on greyhound racing. The accountant has only to check the tickets to find out any fraud. Besides that, the totalisator is practically not being run for profit. It may attract more people to the course. These pools are extremely popular and I think there will be a great deal of feeling if they are being denied to greyhound courses while they are allowed on horse racecourses. There will be a feeling that an attack is being made upon one comparatively small form of sport while other sports are not attacked.


My Lords, I think I may remind the noble Lord that the remedy is in his own hands. These totalisators are capable of being worked mechanically. It is true they are expensive, but if they are so vital to dog racing they can be secured.


They cost a very large sum of money if they exist at all. However I will withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I have three manuscript Amendments to the First Schedule from the noble Lord, Lord Askwith. Perhaps it would be convenient if I read them all. They are: First Schedule, page 27, line 16, leave out "three" in order to insert "five"; line 20, leave out "a penny" in order to insert "three pence"; lines 20 and 21, leave out "a penny" in order to insert "three pence."

LORD ASKWITH moved, in paragraph (2), to substitute "five per cent." for "three per cent." The noble Lord said: This Amendment of which I have given private notice to the noble Marquess is n substitution for the Amendment standing on the Paper to insert "seven and one-half per cent." This question was considered on the last day of the Committee stage when the noble Marquess said there was certainly no desire on the part of the Government to be unreasonable in the matter. The matter has been gone into very carefully and it is suggested that a deduction of five per cent. with three pence, instead of a penny, for breakages would be a fair arrangement. That will not allow the totalisator to pay on all courses—nearly all—but it will, in a certain number of cases, prevent very serious loss. My noble friend the Duke of Sutherland on the Committee stage gave several instances where most serious loss would be incurred if three per cent. and a penny for breakages was adhered to. I have reason to believe that the Government view the first Amendment with a certain amount of sympathy. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 16, leave out ("three") and insert ("five").—(Lord Askwith.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving this Amendment. He has quite accurately stated the desire of the Government not to insist on 3 per cent. if it could be shown that by an increase in the percentage the Bill will be made more satisfactory to those interested in greyhound racing. I am assuming that this Amendment will satisfy all those with whom the noble Lord is connected.


My Lords, I should not have put down this Amendment unless it was an Amendment that I desired to have accepted. In the event of these three Amendments being accepted, none of the members of the Society of which I have the honour to be honorary president would propose to induce those with whom they have any influence either in this House or in another place to move any other Amendment dealing with this point. When I say that, however, I am only referring to this particular point because this is not really of much use unless there is some amelioration in regard to the times of dog races and the fixity of the times now established by the Bill.


My Lords, I am very grateful for the statement made by the noble Lord and I need not delay the proceedings by saying more than fiat the Government accept this Amendment.


My Lords, may I enquire from the noble Marquess what is his calculation as to the effect of this Amendment? During the earlier stages of the Bill we were told that a 3 per cent. rake-off, if I may use the term, would drive all the tracks out of business. There was some conflict as to whether the White City or some other track of the largest and most efficient kind could survive, but there seemed to be a general opinion that the three per cent. would obliterate the smaller companies. The noble Marquess said that it was not his business to make the greyhound racing industry a profitable one; I do not think I am misrepresenting the noble Marquess. What is going to be the effect of the five per cent, with the other minor Amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Askwith, is moving? I think we are entitled to know that. Is this going to enable the present greyhound racing tracks to be operated at a profit, or will it enable them just to pay their way? In other words, is the noble Marquess by this Amendment in any way subsidising those who (I think his words are) capitalise the wickedness—no, not the wickedness, but the folly—of the gambling instinct, or words to that effect? This matter is so important and there has been so much controversy about it that I think your Lordships are entitled to one or two words of explanation from the noble Marquess as to the opinion of his advisers and their calculations as to the effect which this concession will have on the industry.


My Lords, I also would like to ask the noble Marquess on what basis the Government have agreed to this change. When the three per cent. deduction was first of all introduced into the Bill presumably it was assumed that that would be sufficient. Now, it has been very nearly doubled. The noble Marquess will remember a passage in the Report of the Royal Commission, which I may perhaps quote: The introduction of the totalisator offered a new and lucrative source of profit to existing tracks and gave a strong incentive to the creation of fresh tracks. I have taken the trouble to consult the Stock Exchange Year Book, and I find that some of these tracks have been making profits of 30, 40, 50 and 60 per cent. and in one case 125 per cent. One of the noble Lords who spoke previously has quoted from memory a passage from the speech delivered by the noble Marquess in charge of the Bill on the Motion for Second Reading, to the effect that it was not the task of the Government to see that every track was enabled to make a profit, and I should be very grateful if the noble Marquess would tell us for what reason they have increased the percentage to be allowed.


My Lords, I am extremely sorry that the noble Marquess, after all that he has said on this subject, has given way to the financial interests behind the greyhound racecourses. I think in the Committee stage of this Bill arid also in the debate on the Second Reading he told us that the Government had given the most careful attention to this subject and that they had convinced themselves that three per cent. was a sufficient deduction to allow from the totalisator. I cannot see what reason he can possibly adduce at this late stage of the Bill for increasing that amount to five per cent. He has really given us no reason at all. As my noble friend behind me has previously said, the noble Marquess has told the House that it is not the business of the Government to make this kind of thing a profitable business, and I cannot understand why he has gone back upon that. I think this is a very serious movement on the part of the Government. They say they are out all the time to remove opportunities of betting and not to make it a profitable business for those who wish to exploit the working people in this way; but they have departed from that and have taken a step which will more than ever put into private pockets profits made out of the gambling propensities of the people. I very much regret that the Government have accepted this Amendment.


My Lords, I have not always seen eye to eye with the noble Marquess who is in charge of this Bill, but I think that the last speech has quite convinced me that I should support the noble Marquess in this matter.


My Lords, the point, is that the noble Duke, the Duke of Sutherland, on the Committee stage—I do not know whether the noble Lord opposite was present then—gave some very salient figures indeed to show that very heavy losses indeed would occur even on the very biggest tracks if 3 per cent. were the percentage, with a penny breakage. As the matter has been worked out with regard to the various courses in the country, I do not suppose there are any courses which will really make a profit out of the totalisator even with the 5 per cent. and the threepence breakage, but it will prevent a lot of courses being very seriously hurt by the use of a machine which is a protection to the public, and which actually does not bring td the greyhound courses the huge profits which are talked of by various noble Lords. Greyhound courses have not been making much money lately. It may be that in the early stages a few persons did make comparatively small sums and there may have been a very few who made large sums, but at the present time it is a very narrow percentage indeed which is paid to the shareholders of the different courses and some courses have paid no dividends at all. That is the information at my disposal.


My Lords, the speeches to which we have listened I think show conclusively the very difficult position in which I find myself, speaking for the Government, who are determined to do what they can in regard to this measure of which we call social reform. We find opponents in every quarter; but I sincerely hope that the experience of this Bill will not deter future Governments from turning their attention to this matter and doing what they can to save the population from the evils of gambling. We have endeavoured in a small manner in this Bill to meet the difficulties and also to clarify the law where it may be said to have been in a state which is not consistent with what the general public think it should be.

I have been asked several questions in relation to the percentage to be given to the totalisator. The noble Lord who sits opposite has a more accurate knowledge of the phraseology of my speeches than I have myself, but I think I made it quite clear to him and to the House that the Government recognise that if dog racing is to exist—and I think the country accepts the proposition that dog racing should exist—it must be able to pay its expenses. I think also that a Labour Government has been in power since dog racing came into being, and I have no recollection of any strong movement then on the part of that Government to do away with dog racing. Dog racing is in existence, and I have definitely said on behalf of the Government that it is not our proposal to destroy dog racing by some subterranean method. I said that if we believed that it was wholly inimical to the best interests of the country, and the country wished serious steps to be taken, we would have no hesitation in taking them.

We have tried to do what we believe is in the best interests of the country. Betting is going to exist no matter what steps we take to prevent it, and if dog racing is going to exist and betting is going to exist at the same time, we have come to the definite conclusion that the public expect that the totalisator should be protected for the purpose of allowing a certain portion of the public to carry out their betting through the means of the totalisator. Everybody is perfectly well aware that a machine of that description cannot be run for nothing. Certain expenses are entailed in the setting up and in the running of the totalisator. We had believed that a percentage of three per cent. would cover those expenses, and that was the premise on which we introduced this Bill. Now we have been given to understand that three per cent. is a figure on which no totalisator can be operated, and as I tried to make very clear in my opening speech on the Bill, we were desirous of accepting advice which we felt was good advice, and would be prepared to put some figure in the Bill which we believed would enable the totalisator to [...]ceive its working expenses and leave nothing over for the profit of the promoters.

We have heard differing opinions. My noble friend on the Cross Benches told us, on reference to certain means of information, that enormous profits have been made on various dog tracks. I am bound to say that I know nothing about that. We have heard the noble Duke, the Duke of Sutherland, in a long speech giving us very definite figures in quite a different direction. The Government, therefore, felt that it was incumbent upon them, as they have legalised the totalisator for dog tracks, to increase that three per cent., and they have taken five per cent. as the figure which they believe will meet the difficulties which we are told the running of the totalisator entails. There is no arbitrary figure from close examination of accounts, because I believe that to be quite impossible, from experience of the totalisator in other connections. We are satisfied that five per cent. will cover the expenses required to be met, and those are the reasons which I venture to give to the noble Lord in answer to the question put to me.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 20, leave out ("a penny") and insert ("three pence").—(Lord Askwith.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, may we have one word of explanation? It seems rather an important alteration of the Bill.


My Lords, I left it to the noble Lord who moved the Amendment, and I hoped that your Lordships would hear from him what the Amendment was. The Amendments of the noble Lord as drafted will increase the percentage to five per cent. and the breakages to threepence.


I mentioned that the proposal was a double one—namely, a percentage of five per cent. and three pence breakage, and this is the second part of that proposal—namely, instead of "a penny" to insert "threepence."


If I read this aright, and totalling the amount over the whole country, these are enormous sums. As the Bill is drawn, where a person winning a bet is entitled to, say, five shillings and a halfpenny the operator or the totalisator may keep the halfpenny. I have no experience of these things, and only go from reading the evidence. Now it is proposed that if a winner is entitled to receive any sum under threepence the totalisator is entitled to retain the threepence or twopence, whatever it is, and we have had no reason given us why that concession should be made. Your Lordships will be aware that this means a very large sum spread all over the country, especially when we consider that the bets on dog racing are generally in sixpences and shillings. I think some word of justification should be given, because at present it is all weighting the scales in favour of the fortunate totalisator owner, or unfortunate as the case may be, and against the punter or backer. I do not know whether this is part of the policy of the noble Marquess of discouraging betting or of making it honest when it has to be tolerated. I am sorry if I do not always quote him accurately, but I try to get the sense of what he says.


My Lords, I do not often agree with the noble Lord opposite, but I think we ought to know something more about what sum of money this involves. I understand that these transactions are in very small sums indeed, and that there is a great deal of betting of a shilling or under. The difference that this Amendment makes is twopence, I presume. Out of a shilling that is a fairly large percentage, and I would like to know from some sort of calculation what sum of money it involves. On horse racecourses the sums betted are usually very considerably larger than on dog racecourses, and up to a very short time ago they actually calculated to the nearest penny. I have seen it done. I am not sure that on horse racecourses it has not been altered now, but there the unit is so very much larger than on dog racecourses, and it is going to make a very considerable difference indeed whether we limit it to a penny or to threepence. I would like to know whether the Government have any sort of figures with regard to it.


My Lords, the figure is the same as it is on horse racing. I do not accept the noble Lord's statement that on horse racing the figures are always so much larger. There are a vast number of small bets on horse races, on any course you may go to, but there are not many large bets on greyhound racecourses, because the backers are generally men of comparatively small means compared with some of those who may be engaged in horse racing. There have been on the courses threepenny breakages and complaints have not been made about that. The attempt to get a breakage of a less amount than threepence would no doubt for practical purposes involve vast quantities of coppers and cause great trouble and difficulty. As to estimating the amount over the whole country, licensed and unlicensed courses, I do not suppose there are any statistics by which any answer could be given to that. It depends upon the size of the courses, and, if they are spread over localities far separated, as they are, the one from the other, the amount is comparatively small, and makes up the difference which would otherwise be apparent on the low percentage that exists upon the greyhound totalisators as compared with the horse totalisators, where the percentage has had to be raised consecutively up to 12 per cent. before the totalisator could be made to pay.

Amendment moved— Page 27, lines 20 and 21, leave out ("a penny") and insert ("three pence").—(Lord Askwith.)


My Lords, I feel that the noble Lord has put the case before your Lordships far better than I could because he knows something about the totalisator, and I have never had a bet on the totalisator. But I am given to understand that one of the main reasons is that of convenience, which I think your Lordships will appreciate, and that is that a smaller breakage than threepence means the carrying about of an enormous quantity of coppers. I am told that this sum might roughly be said to amount to something like 1 per cent. on the total. That is what I am given to understand: it means an addition of 1 per cent.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, the next Amendments are drafting.

Amendments moved— Page 29, line 6, leave out ("is") and insert ("are"). Page 29, line 14, leave out ("was") and insert ("were").—(Viscount Bertie of Thame.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.


Can the noble Marquess give some indication as to when the Third Reading will be taken?


The Leader of the House informs me that he thinks it will be on Tuesday next.