Changes ahead as Bill passes

Dunedin’s Forbury Park, which faces losing races next season,  is valued at nearly $8 million....
Dunedin’s Forbury Park, which faces losing races next season, is valued at nearly $8 million. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
A new racing Bill passed into law this week makes any attempt to close down a racing club and take the land a long process.

The Racing Industry Bill was passed into law this week and was lauded by Racing Minister Winston Peters as the way forward for racing.

It opened the starting gate for the transition of the New Zealand racing industry to a financially sustainable future, Peters said.

Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) chief executive Dean McKenzie said the Bill included a requirement for offshore bookmakers to pay for their use of New Zealand racing and sport information, in addition to the creation of TAB NZ and additional responsibilities for the codes.

It would lead to the establishment of a new approval authority for introducing new wagering products, changes to address unresolved venue structure issues, the establishment of the Racing Integrity Board and the creation of Racing New Zealand as a collaborative forum of the the racing codes.

RITA would be phased out.

A draft calendar released last month indicated many racing venues would be axed for the next season, which starts on August 1.

Forbury Park, Waikouaiti and Roxburgh are set to lose all their meetings or have them shifted to different tracks next season though the clubs have put in submissions fighting the closures.

The clubs face an uncertain future as racing bosses try to reduce track numbers due to dwindling horse numbers and uneconomic venues. The final calendar is due out late next week.

The new legislation said any racing club which had not held a meeting for two years could become part of a process where it was recognised by the racing code as being no longer involved in racing.

Clubs can make a submission on the process and will have 40 days to reply. The organisation overseeing the racing code will then decide whether a club is racing for the purposes of the Racing Act.

Clubs then may have the option of appealing the decision to the High Court. The court may decide it agrees with the decision to end racing at a venue or send the decision back to the racing code.

If the court backs the decision of the code, the club concerned will be dissolved and all creditors paid.

The assets of the club — the land and facilities — are vested with the racing code it was registered with. The code must recognise whether there is any community interest in the venue and some payments may be made to the community.

Opponents of the changes to the calendar have accused racing bosses of wanting to close venues down, and sell the land where the tracks are situated.

Forbury Park has a valuation of close to $8 million, so plenty of money is at stake.

The Avondale track in Auckland is believed to be valued at $200 million, and did not get any dates in next year’s draft racing calendar.

Meanwhile, RITA announced yesterday stake money for next season would be the same as last year. The forecasted funding in 2020-21 of $139.6 million was the same as was budgeted for in the 2019-20 season, which was pre-Covid-19.

With fewer thoroughbred and harness races planned for the upcoming season, stake money may move in a positive direction.

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