Betfair
and PBL face just one more hurdle in their quest to secure a licence from the
Tasmanian Government. And the least of Betfair’s worries
is the Australian racing industry, which has never been more politically impotent
than it is today.

The one hurdle remaining is the Legislative Council of
Tasmania, and unpredictable though it can be, it is hard to see the
“independent” Members of the Tasmania Upper House rejecting the Bill that gives
effect to the decision by the Lennon Government to licence Betfair.

Since Paul Lennon announced approval for the Betfair/PBL proposal there have been dire threats by the
mainland racing industry, and even by State Governments and their Racing
Ministers. But when you look at this week’s newspapers it is easy to
see why both Paul Lennon and James Packer have very little to fear from the
racing industry and perhaps a lot to gain from the hopeless position it is in
today.

The Australian Jockey Club and the Sydney Turf Club are
partners, with their Victorian counterparts, in TVN – set up by the industry to
broadcast exclusively thoroughbred racing. But the partners seem to be having a few problems. The
AJC and the STC are clearly very concerned at the drain on their finances necessitated by their
involvement in setting up and operating TVN. And they clearly expect their Victorian counterparts and
partners – the VRC, MRC and MVRC – to shoulder more of the
burden.

In the meantime, race clubs in Queensland, country NSW, South
Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia remain
contracted to Sky Racing. The divided television coverage of racing is benefiting
no one and certainly harming the whole racing industry.

The futility and stupidity of the division was on show
in Melbourne Cup week when the home punter had to navigate THREE television
channels in order to watch Melbourne/Sydney/Brisbane/Adelaide races
live. Is it any wonder that Paul Lennon took no notice of the
threats by the racing industry, and even by Tabcorp,
to exact retribution if he granted a licence to Betfair.

The Australian racing industry has no political clout in
Canberra. The
Howard Government has dismissed out of hand the suggestion it intervenes to block
the Tasmanian Government’s approval and the Labor
Opposition isn’t offering much help either. The mainland
State Racing Ministers have criticised
Tasmania’s
decision, but there is little they can do about it.

The days when the racing industry had real political
“clout” are long gone. Paul Lennon knows that, and so does James
Packer. Last year I predicted it wouldn’t be long before a
State or Territory gave Betfair the approval it
needed. Today I won’t be at all surprised if another State or
Territory does so, provided the Tasmanian proposal navigates its one remaining
hurdle.

And if that happens a divided racing industry will have
to accept the lion’s share of the blame
for it.