CAT backs DWS client against OFT betting block

Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS) won a landmark ruling over the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) last week, handing the regulator its first-ever defeat of an infringement decision.

The Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) ruled in favour of the Racecourse Association (RCA) and the owners of 34 racecourses in the UK over the sale of interactive betting rights. DWS advised the RCA.

In May 2001, 49 UK racecourses signed a £307m deal that gave their interactive betting rights to Attheraces, a horse race betting website. In April 2004 the OFT issued an infringement decision accusing the racecourses of acting anticompetitively through the collective sale.

During the appeal, the OFT defended its decision by claiming the price of the interactive betting rights would have been lower if racecourses had sold them individually or in smaller groups. This was rejected by the CAT, which referred to the OFT’s case as “the world that never was” and “a triumph of theory over commercial reality”.

Competition partner Sam Szlezinger led the DWS team, with Christopher Vajda QC of Monckton Chambers serving as counsel for the RCA.

Observers are waiting to see the impact of the ruling on a claim by Attheraces against the RCA and the 34 racecourses. Attheraces is claiming £58m in rebates after an interactive betting rights contract was terminated.