Racing industry hopes for rescue package but there would be a catch

The racing industry will find out today whether the Government is set to come to its rescue. And then the question will be, at what cost? Minister for Racing Winston Peters has scheduled a pre-Budget announcement for noon today at the Beehive, with the Deputy Prime Minister saying it will specifically relateto the racing industry. Racing bosses are praying it is some sort of Government rescue package, as the industry, which has the equivalent of 15,000 full-time employees, was already struggling before the Covid-19 lockdown forced both horse racing codes to close for at least two months. The TAB, the main revenue gathering side of the racing industry, has already started making cuts to up to 30 per cent of its staff, but without either an injection of cash or significant instant tax relief, most areas of New Zealand racing will struggle to maintain stakes, or even their ability to hold race meetings. The TAB (temporarily called the Racing Industry Transition Agency) have been working with the Government on a potential relief package but what form that takes was a mysteryto even the most senior of racing industry officials last night. A major Government assistance package would also go a long way to ending the long-running argument over who owns the TAB, which the racing industry has claimed for decades belongs to them. That is more important now than ever because the industry is involved in fierce debate as to whether the TAB’s core roles should be outsourced to overseas betting operators, with many arguing New Zealand can’t afford to be running its own betting operations. The three separate codes and many of their administrators have opinions on outsourcing or joint ventures, but if the Government has to rescue the industry, that will strengthen any further claims that the TAB belongs to them, akin to the codes relinquishing some control of the troubled industry. Just how desperate things have become for the TAB became apparent yesterday when they reportedly told broadcasting staff they will have on-course presenters at only around20 meetings a season, which will mean most Saturday race meetings will be hosted from studios. Leading trainers and jockeys contacted the Herald last night to express their dismay at the decision, suggesting New Zealand racing will now lack promotion and atmosphereand it will be harder to maintain interest from racehorse owners and punters. It is understood the TAB still intends to have presenters at their 20 largest meetings, but at least two of the 10-strong presenting team will be made redundant, along with one northern commentator, and Trackside Radio will cease to exist on AM, instead being a digital simulcast available online.
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