The UK’s Cheltenham Racecourse is set to go to the High Court this week in a bid to secure a potentially groundbreaking ruling that would ban ticket touts from the facility.
The effort is the latest move by Cheltenham, home of the showpiece Cheltenham Festival, to clamp down on touts and a ruling in its favour could see similar measures at other major sporting events in the UK.
Up to 1,000 fake badges were said to have been sold by touts this year at Cheltenham, with 200 racegoers having been denied entry to the racecourse after purchasing invalid tickets.
The Jockey Club, the UK’s largest commercial body for horseracing and operator of Cheltenham, estimates that ticket touting costs it an estimated £1m (€1.13m/$1.3m) per year across its 15 racecourses. This is then said to have a £10m estimated cost to racing as a sport.
The barrister handling the case, John Steel, QC, told The Times newspaper: “This is going to change the way forward for sport. This is part of a very significant drive to clear up touting at British sporting events. This is groundbreaking.”
Ian Renton, the regional director of Cheltenham, explained that more than 150 touts operated at this year’s Festival in March. “Touting has got increasingly worse every year,” Renton said. “Our racegoers are getting hassled, sometimes pretty aggressively and fleeced. Some people are quite frightened by them.”
The racecourse last year attempted to combat touts by partnering with Cheltenham Council to issue public space protection orders in the town and at the racecourse. However, with fines set at a maximum of £80 this failed to be an effective deterrent.
If Cheltenham is successful at the High Court, the injunction will take immediate effect but would not be fully implemented before the 2019 Festival. Repeat offenders could face prison sentences of up to two years.
“Across the Jockey Club we think it is costing us over £1m a year in lost revenues,” Renton said. “At Cheltenham alone the figure runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds. If successful we would like to see this rolled out across the group. If we are successful we will also have talks with the borough council so they can seek their own injunction in the town so touts are not just moved from our premises on to council land.”
Renton added that touts also deter people from attending race meetings, having a knock-on effect for other income streams such as food and drink sales. He said revenues were also lost because advertisers and sponsors paid more for proven “clean” venues.
Steel, who is acting for Cheltenham, said: “Police and local authorities see this as a scourge and very often, according to the evidence I have seen, touting is helping to fuel organised crime.”