RACING needs a “Mandela moment” in the conflict between the sport and betting, guests at a prestigious York Racecourse dinner were told last night.

Addressing the 240th Gimcrack Dinner, Paul Lee, chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board, said the industry needed to “put the past behind us and move on”.

Commenting on the current crisis with the Levy, which sees an impasse between bookmakers and racing over the amount that should be collected and distributed back into the sport, Lee said: “On a day to day basis, a huge amount is achieved between betting and racing – but please remember that betting is probably racing’s biggest customer.”

He added: “Neither side is completely at fault, but each side has faults. This industry needs a ‘Mandela moment’. We need to put the past behind us and move on. History can inform us but cannot shape the future.

“We are where we are. We do not have a Tote monopoly – and indeed the benefits of choice and competition have long been seen to be desirable. Racing has to work with betting because it is not going to go away. We need new ways of working together.”

The Levy difficulties have seen a campaign, Racing United, launched to clear alleged loopholes in the system. Funding for British racing through the Levy has dropped by more than a third, from £115 million in 2008 to £75 million in 2010. This figure is expected to fall even further next year.

Earlier, Newmarket trainer William Haggas told the invited audience: “We have a fantastic industry – it is just a shame that the bookmakers do not seem to appreciate it.”

According to tradition, the event is addressed by the owner of the horse that wins the Gimcrack Stakes, a Group 2 contest for two-year-olds which forms part of the Ebor Festival in August.

This year’s Gimcrack was won by Approve, trained by Yorkshire-born Haggas and owned by a Highclere Thoroughbred syndicate. Haggas is only the second trainer in the history of the dinner to speak on behalf of the winning connections.

On Betfair, which has been involved in a long-standing row over the amount it contributes to the Levy, he said: “I wish somehow we could find a way that Betfair could contribute just a small percentage of their turnover back to the sport that brought them into the world.

“We have a problem when a maiden race at Wolverhampton attracts £800,000 turnover on Betfair and we are racing for £1,500 – never mind the appalling demands on stable staff especially at twilight/evening meetings and the immense costs to owners, trainers and jockeys. The imbalance is absurd.”

Haggas also stressed the need to prioritise the welfare of owners at racecourses and praised the redeveloped owners and trainers lounge at York, saying: “It is now extremely comfortable, spacious, warm and friendly and can cope much better with larger crowds.”

Gimcrack, born in 1760, recorded 27 wins from 36 races. Despite never winning at York his performances led to Lord Rockingham, twice Prime Minister and a leading figure on Knavesmire, forming a dining society in his honour in 1767.