Huge changes headed for NZ racing industry

The racing industry in New Zealand is in for a major shakeup following a bombshell report to the government which recommends closing nearly half the country’s racetracks, ending the industry’s statutory monopoly on betting and a raft of other changes.

Racing Minister Winston Peters who is also Deputy Prime Minister in New Zealand’s coalition government released the findings of the report from Australian consultant Joe Messara on Thursday night.

Mr Peters said that the industry faced a change or die scenario, although many in the industry do not accept that the situation is as dire as the reports portrays it, or that all the changes recommended are necessary.

Key changes recommended include the closure of twenty of the country’s 48 racecourses; the opening of two more all-weather tracks in the main centres (making three in total); the lease of the racing industry’s monopoly of betting on horses and greyhounds through the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) to a so far unnamed Australian sports betting agency; and increased government funding of the industry through its provincial growth fund.

Messara described the racing industry as “deeply distressed” and said the changes should begin from the next racing season (starting August 2019) and come into force over five years, including the investment of NZ$190 million ($127 million) in upgrading the 28 tracks to remain open. The 20 tracks to close are all in small provincial areas.

Chief executive of the New Zealand Racing Board, John Allen, has warned the industry to understand all the implications of the changes, because once implemented, particularly the leasing of the TAB, “there will be no going back.”

Profits from the TAB have been channeled back into the racing, trotting and greyhound codes.

While the government has formally to approve the proposals, the support of the Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is likely to be decisive. He is also head of the New Zealand First Party which is in coalition with the Labour Party, and a clause in their coalition agreement states that New Zealand First’s racing policy will be the policy of the government.

Mr Peters in known to be close to certain factions in the industry including well-known breeder Sir Patrick Hogan who has openly campaigned for Mr Peters and his party at the last general election, and has been a long time advocate for change in the structure and funding of the industry.