There is a certain gameshow feel to the Levy Board's statement that it is opening a consultation on whether Betfair has any customers who are liable for levy.
I can almost picture them hiring Cilla Black to make the announcement, given David Zeffman's article in May's Racing Post, which so obviously heralded the start of a concerted campaign that I wrote at the time, "I guess that only if the HBLB were suddenly to open up a consultation exercise on the issue on the back of the article, might the view that [the newspaper] was wittingly or unwittingly kicking off a campaign be reinforced."
Perhaps the Nic Coward view is that if this time, racing plays its cards right, it might get what it has failed to get in every past exploration of this subject. Presumably Stuart Hall will be next up, declaring on Coward's behalf that "It's A Knock-Out!" and revealing the killer blow.
Except, a cursory glance at the Levy Board's consultation announcement reveals that there is nothing new in the paper. As Martin Cruddace, Betfair's Legal Director, declared in a statement published by the company yesterday, "After a thorough, independent review of this very issue throughout 2004 and 2005, the Treasury came to the conclusion that the treatment of betting exchanges and their customers was fair. Since then, there has not been one scrap of evidence produced by anyone to suggest the situation has changed".
Indeed, the opening section of the Levy Board's consultation document merely reiterates the extent to which we have covered all this ground before; and paragraph 112 is extraordinary: "First, there is a difficulty with a necessary premise: that there are customers of a betting exchange who are carrying on a business. That is ultimately a question of fact which would need to be demonstrated and in truth cannot be. Leaving aside that fatal initial objection, the following points arise."
So to my mind, this seems to me an admission that the Levy Board already knows that it is about to draw another Blankety Blank. Although I received an e-mail yesterday from one of my favourite racing journalists, who told me that, "David Zeffman I know not. What I do know is that bookmakers operate their business (rather than stand, uselessly, at the course) on Betfair.... Love you to death, love Betfair to death - but none of you are bookmakers and the nuances (dark arts) of racecourse betting are perhaps not your strong suit", in reality, perception and fact here are a long way apart.
While people might be making money as punters, that doesn't make any of them bookies. And as I tried to explain to Racing many times when it was my job to give a monkey's about it, laws, and law enforcement, need to be based on something other than rhetoric. Unfortunately for Racing, rhetoric is all that Nic Coward has on his side in this debate.
To give him credit, at times that rhetoric is Shakespearean in its stature. But at others, like in his statement yesterday, it is laughably poor. So desperate is he to connect Betfair to racing's ills, that he name-checked it in isolation in the most absurd manner, apparently missing completely the fact that the company has decided to pay a voluntary contribution to racing directly into projects of its choosing, rather than into coffers he controls. That decision, taken while I still worked there, was the direct result of Nic's approach to running the sport: he gave Betfair no credit for its voluntary contribution (despite the fact that it was unique at the time it was paid); he insisted it was not levy at all, but a payment Betfair should do what it wanted with; and he spent much of it on legal fees aimed at damaging the company's business.
It continues to pain me, even in my post-Betfair world, that he should keep leading Racing on a hopeless cause, just as it does that people in racing should blindly follow him. There are so many other things they need to get on and address, and their task in addressing them gets harder with every day that they waste tilting at windmills.