Merv Hill, former CEO of Racing NSW, WA TAB and now a consultant to the racing industry, writes:



In his Crikey article “Betfair: Sense and
nonsense
,” Consumer
Advocate Peter Mair
applauds the imminent legitimisation of the
operations of the betting exchanges in Australia.
There are two points raised that might be seen in a different
light.

Consistently Peter has suggested that the
racing industry is subsidised from the taxpayer’s purse, and that it is the
recipient of public funding. The money that flows through the TABs in
Australia
is subject to a deduction which is used by the TABs to meet their running costs
and to meet their obligations which include an obligation, by agreement and/or
legislation, to pay the racing industry a fee for “putting on the show.” Sure,
the money originally comes from the public, the betting part of the public in
this case, but it is not public or taxpayer funds in the generally accepted meaning
of those terms.

While I don’t accept that money deducted
from the punting dollar is taxpayer or public funds, it doesn’t really matter
because, just like our elected governments have
the responsibility of using the money collected in taxes in the proper way, so
do the racing administrators have the responsibility to use racing funds
properly – they don’t own these funds, they just hold them in trust on behalf of
the industry. The constant use of the terms “taxpayer” and “public funds” could
lead some to believe that the racing industry is dipping into the public purse
when it is in reality being paid for performance.

On the score of utilising the funds, Peter
has consistently argued the merits of having more quality and less quantity in
racing, and in terms of his home state of NSW he may be right as racing
administrators there have succumbed over many years to the pressure of what used
to be known as “The Jolly Green Giant” and is now the rapacious multi State
TABCorp. But I think a different picture can be painted for Tasmania
where Peter, perhaps prematurely, decries the possible expansion of racing and
the subsidisation of unwanted racing.

For too long Tasmanian racing has been at
the bottom of the pile, ignored by all others – forced to race on Sundays with
no complementary quality interstate racing to draw punters to the track, harness
racing pushed into the Sunday twilight slot and forced to race at unseemly short
intervals to feed the Sky/TAB requirements – little wonder Tasmania’s racing
friendly Premier stole the march and was first to open up a meaningful dialogue
with Betfair, and now is about to be the first State to license and regulate
them.

Additional revenue will provide some hope
for the many people who maintain horses in this State; like Peter, I hope this
means a rise in quality in all aspects of racing. We could stand a few more
events for the sake of the participants, but there is a lot more to be done
other than run more races, and I am sure that under the watchful eye of a
Premier who knows his racing, Tasmania will make good use of its opportunity –
that might mean a few more races here, which will not impact on the national
scene, and it certainly won’t involve use of taxpayer funds.