Turf TV Part 2: Victory for the bookmakers

United Kingdom

This article was produced by Olswang LLP, which joined with CMS on 1 May 2017.

As reported in the last Gambling Update, the first judgment was handed down in October in the complex legal battle between, on one side, the bookmaker body BAGS (together with William Hill, Ladbrokes and BetFred) and, on the other side, AMRAC (owner of the LBO broadcaster Turf TV, acting together with its shareholders, which comprise half of all British racecourses and Alphameric, the supplier of equipment to LBOs).

That judgment rejected BAGS' competition law challenge to the contractual arrangements by which AMRAC was established through coordination amongst its racecourse shareholders. It also as a result rejected a conditional counterclaim by AMRAC challenging the validity of exclusive rights with racecourses that are held by BAGS and the LBO broadcaster SIS, as this counterclaim applied only if BAGS' challenge to AMRAC's agreements had been successful.

Left outstanding from the first judgment was a separate counterclaim by AMRAC directed at alleged cartel activity by William Hill, Ladbrokes, Betfred and Coral (Coral was originally a party to BAGS' claim, but reached a separate settlement with AMRAC). This counterclaim was dealt with in a second judgment delivered on 6 November 2008.

AMRAC had alleged that, contrary to EU and UK competition law, the four bookmakers were parties to an agreement and/or concerted practice to refuse to purchase Turf TV and/or to exclude or impede AMRAC's entry to or survival in the relevant upstream and downstream markets. AMRAC also alleged that the bookmakers agreed to withdraw sponsorship from certain racecourses that had licensed their LBO rights to AMRAC. Certain other claims were withdrawn by AMRAC during the proceedings.

These were clearly very serious allegations, with heavy implications for the bookmakers and their directors. However, the Court categorically held that AMRAC had failed to prove that there had been any collusion amongst the bookmakers and accordingly dismissed AMRAC's counterclaim in its entirety.

Whilst this victory for the bookmakers has evened the scores, the game is not over yet. Last week the same judge who had heard the original trial granted leave to BAGS to appeal the first judgment. At the same time, he refused leave to AMRAC to appeal in relation to its counterclaim against BAGS and SIS (AMRAC does not appear to intend to appeal the second judgment). The judge's refusal to allow AMRAC to appeal was on the basis that BAGS' case against AMRAC's contracts was on a factual and legal basis that was not applicable to BAGS and SIS's contracts, so that AMRAC would have no prospect of reviving its conditional counterclaim against BAGS and SIS. Should it wish to pursue an appeal, AMRAC will therefore have to seek permission directly from the Court of Appeal.