Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Is everything OK, Ralph?

I remember the first I met Ralph Topping. I was at the races at Windsor for an evening meeting, and he'd just been appointed. He was full of bonhomie, and was extremely friendly.

I saw him again shortly afterwards, at a meeting for what became the GREaT foundation, at which the gambling industry discussed how it would work together to avoid having the government introduce a statutory levy for problem gambling. He made a point of pulling me aside at the end of it to tell me that he wanted to make clear that the past was the past; and it was time the relationship between William Hill and Betfair changed for the better. We looked forward to grabbing a pint together.

When he had to present to analysts as William Hill produced mediocre results in August, I could understand what I regarded as diversionary tactics when Ralph drew on the irrelevance of Betfair's "turnover" to argue that "About £4bn of bets goes through Betfair and it pays just £7m to the levy. It's getting away with murder." Even when the BHA love-in happened just before Christmas, when Ralph and the BHA hierachy buried the "aimless and bleating' hatchet, I just saw Ralph as someone fighting his own corner. He'd just moved his online business offshore, so there was a certain logic, again, in trying to deflect attention elsewhere; and we've got used to being the whipping boys when diversion is needed.

But Ralph's recent interview in Betview magazine, which in part is a very interesting read, takes him to entirely new ground. He's quoted as saying, "I call Betfair the choirboys of the industry - 'look at us we're so innocent' - actually the exchanges are the biggest Masonic lodge there is. They're a massive secret society where illegal gambling is taking place."

I wonder what happened.

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