Omakau races hinge on licence

A section of the crowd at the 2014 Omakau races. Photo: Peter McIntosh.
A section of the crowd at the 2014 Omakau races. Photo: Peter McIntosh.
The future of the Omakau races will be decided at a licensing hearing next week.

Police opposed an application for a special licence to run two bars at next year’s Omakau trots on January 2 and told the Central Otago Trotting Club, at a hearing in June, they could prosecute the club and some of the 7000 race-goers for allowing alcohol to be brought into the Omakau racecourse at the last race meeting in January this year.

A special licence had been granted for the bars but BYO alcohol was also allowed, which was "at odds" with the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, police said.

The special licence needed to cover the entire racecourse. 

Club president Graham Sinnamon told the hearing the future of the popular race meeting hinged on the outcome of the liquor licence application and the decision  had huge ramifications for other racing clubs.

The Omakau trots had been running for 52 years and there was no evidence of harm caused by alcohol, yet it remained a recurring theme from the police in opposing the special licence, he said.

The hearing, before the Central Otago District Licensing Committee, was adjourned part-way through so the club could consider varying the special licence area, continuing the hearing, or withdrawing its application.

The club has now decided to continue the hearing and refiled its original application.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Sinnamon was in Wellington, talking to members of the New Zealand Racing Board about the matter.

"We’ve been consulting with all the relevant people that need to be consulted about this, including the police, and our focus is on trying to get an agreement that all parties are comfortable with," he said.

Mr Sinnamon declined to give details of the discussions but said the outcome of those talks would be revealed at the hearing on Friday.

After the June hearing, Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper waded into the debate, criticising the police stance which he said was "stupid". 

Racing was in a precarious state in provincial New Zealand and making organisers get  a special licence to cover the entire racecourse would make the event unaffordable, he said.

The police interpretation of the law put in doubt any community event which previously allowed a BYO option, Mr Lepper said in a newspaper column.

Apparently people were no longer deemed to be responsible enough to moderate their own behaviour and needed to have someone watching over them, he said.

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