“If we leave the gambling companies alone, Warigem Korsi will be in danger.”

After a modest release of Corona, Waregem Koerse shined the spotlight on equestrian sports once again on Tuesday. But the sector doesn’t have much reason to celebrate. Price companies sadly see how online gambling companies will handle the betting proceeds. “They undermine our business model.”

The 175th edition of Waregem Koerse will take place on Tuesday at the Gaverbeek hippodrome in Waregem in West Flanders. The High Horse Mass annually mobilizes an estimated 35,000 people, including more than 6,500 dignitaries, businessmen and politicians. After a forced limited release in 2021, the equestrian event wants to step up once again in the anniversary edition.

Besides the mandatory hats, the chance to network and of course the Gaverbeek-challenging horses, Waregem Koerse is known for his betting. Many enthusiasts take the occasional gamble on the horse that crosses the finish line first, “gagné” in jargon. “Show” (choose the horse that takes second place) or “position” (choose the horse that makes the top three) are also popular games. You can bet on bookmakers, on counters in the exchange arena or on an online player, Bingoal or Ladbrokes.

© Geert Jokems

Race organizers look on with dismay at the latter’s progress. “They completely undermine our business model,” says Philippe Cassier, Chairman of Koninklijke Waregemse Koersmaatschappij. In the past, the public accounted for a third of the income, VIP arrangements a third and the rest betting. Not anymore. There is more gambling online and we see the increased income pass us by.

A normal version of Waregem Koerse is used for 500,000 euros. After the distribution of profits and deduction of material and personnel costs and taxes, the organization is left with approximately €75,000. “This is not enough to cover the €300,000 prize money, not to mention other organizational costs,” says CEO Pram Vandewal. “In addition, we are concerned that more and more bets are being made ‘off the track.’ This means by people at home, or – and worse – by the audience present, who are ignoring our counters and taking risks via smartphone. Although we We bear all the costs of the organization, but we gain nothing from it.

Racing associations act for listed sale

As of this week, Koninklijke Waregemse Koersvereniging no longer owns HippoLoggia, the central podium at the Gaverbeek Hippodrome. The complex includes banquet halls, a modest war museum and a fine restaurant. The city of Wargem, which already owns the second floor, is putting €4.9 million on the table for the rest of the building. The sale represents an unexpected financial gain for the exchange, which incurred around 1.4 million euros in carry-forward losses in 2021. Now that Waregem City Council is the owner, the racing company will have a three-week use right to organize Waregem Koerse.

Insiders estimate the amount to bet on offline and online horse racing in Belgium at between 100 and 150 million euros annually. The five racing associations that still have our country together receive €400,000 per year from the bet of millions raised by bookmakers. The main horse betting providers are the British Ladbrokes, the smaller Bingoal and the Euro Tiercé. Bingoal is a distant heir to Belgian Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU), which owned racing clubs until the 1980s. Euro Tiercé is a subsidiary of French betting company PMU, which has almost a monopoly on horse betting there.

Unlike France, where PMU has to donate 8 percent of its income to exchange companies each year, Belgian regulators are not allowed to dispose of online gambling proceeds. The French horse racing sector receives 800 million euros annually. we? No EUR. We have to beg the gambling operators for a little sponsorship,” says Cassier.

He confirms that relations with Bingoal are good. The Belgian gambling company is sponsoring the penultimate price on Tuesday and talks are underway to award a commission for every digital bet. Things get even more difficult with Ladbrokes not responding to questions. Unfortunately we don’t talk to everyone. Vandewalle says that having separate negotiations with all gamblers is stressful.

Baron Philippe Casier and Waregem Koerse CEO Bram Vandewalle.
© Jonas Lamps

“Our roots go back to the equine world, so we think it’s important to work closely with racing companies,” says Bingoal’s Dieter Vanlerberge. The bookmaker notes that French rates can count on much more interest than Belgian rates. Swedish competitions are also gaining popularity. However, we continue to offer “our” races and the organizers are getting a good return. The clip is growing online, but it’s certainly not quite an order of magnitude as half a million in physical bets.



We spend a lot of money on prices and the income stays elsewhere.

Pram Vandewal

CEO Warigem Corsi

The treasurer sighs. “The lack of structural arrangement destroys the entire horse racing business model.” According to him, a version of the French scheme will save the Belgian horse sector 10 million euros annually. If that happened, we would be very wealthy. Then the future of equestrian sport is assured. Fandewal: I like to compare it to premium football. Isn’t it conceivable that the sports image rights belong to the club? But not with us. We spend a lot of money on prices, and the income stays elsewhere.

The political world remains aloof. At the end of last year, at the request of the gambling sector, the Constitutional Court struck down a new legal regulation that obliges gambling companies to contribute to the costs of organizing races. The federal government, not intending to amend the law, puts the initiative in the hands of Flemish colleagues. A decree has been prepared in the Flemish Parliament for years providing for the return of the sector. But the execution remained a dead letter, leaving the racing companies empty-handed.

Bram Constandt, a postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University who studies gambling in the world of sports, understands Casier and his partners’ perspective. However, he questions whether it would be desirable for this income to go back to the regulators. Wouldn’t it make sense to invest this money in more consumer protection? Horse betting may be less addictive than some other games of chance, it is not harmful (see box)“.

How addictive are horses?

Gambling addiction to the racetrack? ‘It rarely happens,’ says Warigem Corsi. According to the organization, an average spectator participates in one of the races for 10 euros. “Actually, everyone should do it. This way we create participation during the matches, says Chairman Philippe Cassier. Where does the atmosphere come from? Because people bet and cheer their horse. You feel for a moment that you own the horse.

Experts completely disagree. “It is recognized that offline betting is less addictive than most games of chance online, such as casino games, and there is greater social control. But they are not innocent,” says Ghent University researcher Bram Constant. “There is a very short time between effort and result, Which leads to needs being met quickly. In addition, participants underestimated the factor of luck or chance. They think they have a better chance because they know a lot about equestrian sports. Research shows that there is no link between knowledge and chances of winning.

The increasing dominance of the gambling industry is also manifested in another way. As local interest in Belgian horse racing has been waning for years, Prince Muhammad Bin Fahd University is offering Belgian racing organizers the opportunity to include their races in the French betting show. Of the 1,000 races held annually in Belgium, about 300 appear on the agenda of PMU. It is then broadcast as a “French franchise” among international players.

“Often these races bring in a turnover of between €250,000 and €300,000, of which 3 per cent flow to us,” says Levin Lano of Warrigim Draft, who organizes the weekly trotting races at Warigem Arena separately from Warigem Course. The other side of the coin is that this gives France control over planning. “Because they book the peak hours – the afternoon – for their races, we have to work in the morning or in the evening. The result is: fewer audiences on site. And again less income.

Koninklijke Renvereniging Oostende, partly owned by Bingoal owner Joeri Impens, organizes five summer meetings that are broadcast internationally. To align with the PMU program, we have to start at 11:45 am. It’s not ideal, but the profits are big enough for us to adapt,” says Vanlerberge, who does not deny the power of French bookmakers.

Baxter

“We have become too dependent on those premium races. The scheme gives us financial oxygen, but if you have to give up the public for it, that is the death knell for the sport,” says Lannoo van Waregem Draaft. “The Belgian racing sector is sick,” says an insider. In a coma, the passengers of the French Popular Mobilization Unit are suspended.”



The Belgian racing sector suffers from a coma hanging over the passengers of a French horse racing unit.

For those who are going to gamble on a Tuesday at one of the 120 counters spread out across the hippodrome, it may seem like a show off my bed. However, Casier and Vandewalle warn of the consequences. “Our colleagues at Kuurne are only organizing four racing days this year, because they are stuck on budget. Waregem Koerse is a big name with a history, but we want everyone to make it. My fear is that the sector will fall under the tutelage of betting shops. It is not healthy. If this trend continues. , the survival of Waregem Koerse will be in jeopardy’, says Casier.

Stricter rules for games of chance on the road

Justice Minister Vincent van Quekenborn (Open VLD) announced this summer that stricter rules for online gambling will come into effect in October. On the other hand, betting shops must register all customers and check if they are on the list of excluded persons. On the other hand, there will be a weekly limit of 200 euros per account for online games of chance.

Van Quickenborne’s Treasury has announced that the rules do not (yet) apply to mobile gambling establishments, such as the Hippodrome. The fear is still there. There are already queues at the counters. If our 120 employees were to require identification from all participants and verify that they are not on a blacklist, that would become completely impractical. Then the betting stops, says Bram Vandewal, CEO of Waregem Koerse.

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