In two, and possibly soon to be three, states the racing industry is in turmoil at a time when industry leaders should be addressing the potential impact the economic downturn will have on one of the nation’s biggest employers.

The industry in South Australia is in total disarray as a result of an explosive inquiry into the activities of the Committee and the CEO of the South Australian Jockey Club, which operates racing in Adelaide.

The report, detailed in today’s Adelaide Advertiser, was commissioned by the SA racing controlling authority details numerous allegations of voting irregularities, financial malpractice, and possible corrupt behaviour.

The main focus of the report is the CEO of the SAJC Steve Ploubidis, and club chairman John Naffine, and board member Travis McLeay.

One of the most serious allegations in the report is that hundreds of new young members were signed up last year, with memberships generally paid in cash — reputedly up to $40,000 worth — and that some applicants for membership apparently did not even know they have been proposed!

It would appear that the new members were largely “recruited” at The Church nightclub and the grooming business, Destination for Men, owned by an acquaintance of the CEO. And surprise, surprise, they “voted” for the current administration led by Mr Naffine which has strongly supported the CEO.

Unless the Board of the SAJC adopts the recommendations by the Inquiry by this Friday, the Independent Gaming Authority (which controls the SAJC’s licence) will intervene, but that may not be necessary.

Under heavy political and media pressure the Board is likely to sack the CEO and then sack itself.

But the allegations of wider malpractice, including claims relating to the sale of the Cheltenham racecourse to a developer for around $80 million, won’t be resolved by the sacking of the CEO and the resignation of the current Board of Directors. Police investigations are now under way and yet another inquiry may follow.

South Australian racing is the weakest in the country — this debacle is not going to help it even with the $80 million proceeds of the racecourse sale being put into prize money and upgrading the Morphettville course.

Meanwhile, the Australian Jockey Club, Sydney’s premier race club, is in turmoil, with dissident members trying to oust the club committee. Both the dissidents, and the committee, have set up websites to marshal votes before the special meeting called for 9 April. The main target is the AJC CEO, Norman Gillespie, who is paid a cool $425,000 a year.

This turmoil comes as the NSW State Government begins applying pressure to Sydney’s two race clubs, the AJC and the STC, to merge.

And whether or not racing in Queensland joins the turmoil depends on the outcome of this Saturday’s state election. If the LNP Opposition is elected, then the very powerful boss of Racing Queensland, Bob Bentley, will be on borrowed time. He recently launched a wide ranging attack on Shadow Racing Minister, Mike Horan, who has hit back with a promise to “restructure” Queensland Racing if he is the Minister after Saturday!

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey