The Melbourne Cup Carnival ended on a high on Saturday with a record crowd of over 80,000 attending the Emirates Stakes Day. But the racing industry will not slip from the headlines thanks to an almost endless array of divisions that remain unresolved.

The most consequential of all is Betfair’s High Court challenge to West Australian legislation that prohibits Betfair from taking bets from West Australians, and from interstate punters on WA races. The challenge is based on Section 92 of the Constitution, which preserves free trade across state and territory borders.

If the challenge is successful it will open the door for Betfair to expand its operations beyond Tasmania where it has been licensed by the State Government.

In the meantime the NSW racing industry faces a new challenge when the shut-down caused by equine flu ends in the coming weeks. The Iemma Government has ordered a review into aspects of wagering in the State and it is widely expected Betfair will be licensed to operate in NSW as a result.

Racing New South Wales and the major clubs – not to mention Tabcorp – are completely opposed to Betfair but one gets the impression they are fighting a battle they cannot win. And if equine flu and Betfair are not enough, Randwick racecourse trainers remain very unhappy at the closure of the track next year to cater for two papal masses.

Even though the Spring Racing Carnival was about as successful as could have been expected, the Victorian racing industry remains divided over the industry’s controlling body, Racing Victoria. The State Government will today announce the new board of Racing Victoria – the “wisdom of Solomon” will be necessary to deliver a board that will placate industry stakeholders.

Another challenge facing the industry is the cost of the dedicated thoroughbred channel, TVN. There are signs some of TVN’s owners, such as the Australian Jockey Club, are losing patience with the losses being run up by TVN, which they have to contribute to meeting.

Racing in Queensland is not without its problems, even apart from equine flu. At the end of the month the members of the Brisbane Turf Club will vote on a proposed merger with the Queensland Turf Club – and what a mess that is turning out to be. Half the BTC Committee will resign if the merger is approved – the other half will resign if it is defeated!

But the biggest challenge of all for the racing industry in NSW and Queensland, and to a lesser extent other states, will come when TAB distributions begin to reflect the massive downturn in turnover brought about by the cancellation of Sydney and Brisbane racing, and many race provincial meetings, since equine flu was first detected in August.

Turnover is down alarmingly – even on the Melbourne Cup Carnival. The bottom line of both Tabcorp and Tattersalls will take a significant hit … and the racing industry will be after government compensation above what has already been provided in the wake of the equine flu crisis.

In all the circumstances, the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival was more successful than the industry could have hoped for – but it now faces new challenges, and the same old divisions.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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