28 MARCH 1998, Page 21

Sir: I was disturbed to read my old friend Peter

Oborne, normally so sound on these matters, describe horseracing as a sub- sidised industry 'permanently on the scrounge'. It suits governments for people to think this, but it is simply not true.

Indeed, far from dipping into the taxpay- er's wallet, the racing industry, in all its forms, contributes handsomely to the pub- lic purse. Successive chancellors have had their fingers in racing's till since off-course betting tax was introduced in 1966 (in those days it was 2.5 per cent, today it is 6.75 per cent).

Last year, the government lifted another £315 million in duty from off-course bets on racing, making it a far bigger beneficia- ry than the bookmakers themselves. Were the Chancellor to stop plundering the punter, racing's financial problems would be solved at a stroke via the potential for an increase in the bookmakers' levy. Rac- ing is not asking for government handouts, but for a more equitable distribution of the enormous revenues generated by bet- ting on horses (£4.6 billion off-course last year).

There are those, of course, who argue that racing is a social menace, encouraging people like me to spend an agreeable after- noon at Cheltenham instead of toiling in the office, in which case it deserves to be taxed in order to fund hospitals, schools and other necessities. But that does not make it 'a highly cosseted and subsidised business'. Racing and those who earn their living from it are net tax payers not benefi- ciaries.

Jeff Randall

Sunday Business, 200 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1