Turn it up! Who should own the TAB?

One of the issues raised in this column - the question of who owns the TAB - has hit the Parliamentary debating chamber.

National MP Ian McKelvie raised the issue when the Racing Reform Bill, the first of two Bills proposed in response to the Messara Report, entered the full committee stage in the House on Wednesday.

For me, it is one of the most contentious and important things needed to enhance the racing industry.

Much of the rhetoric and a good chunk of the Parliamentary debate has been focused on the deal sports agencies would get from betting reforms.

The formula for distributing money to sporting organisations was effectively removed when the Racing Reform Bill was written.

Sports organisations and some MPs then jumped up and down concerned about the future payouts to sporting codes.

It sounds like cause for concern. However, sports organisations were merely put in the same spot the racing codes have been put in.

There is no guaranteed or set payout formula for any of the racing codes under the Racing Reform Bill.

The whole point of the Bill is to create change, including the way these formulas are administered and set.

Questions have been raised over who owns the TAB and of representation. Some say sports representatives should sit on the Racing Industry Transitional Agency (reconstituted from the current New Zealand Racing Board) and Wagering NZ.

If that were the case it would appear the New Zealand racing industry would lose total ownership and control over the TAB.

The question is will this happen?

The short answer is no.

Racing Minister Winston Peters has not given a direct answer about the question of TAB ownership. However, he stated that it is his intention to solve that issue very quickly.

There are enough hints in the legislation and from the direction Peters has moved to suggest he intends to stamp Wagering NZ as a racing-first organisation and the TAB as racing-owned.

That would be a massive victory, if things play out the way I suspect.

It might not seem huge to some, but imagine the opposite. Imagine if sporting officials sat at the helm of the RITA and Wagering NZ. Imagine watching sports that have come along nearly 70 years after racing clubs started the TAB and have them hijack it as they have done with the TAB profits since the inception of sports betting.

Sports have had a free ride by taking a cut of turnover without any consideration of costs for more than 20 years. And they do extensively where the New Zealand sporting code in question had no involvement or claim to the event being bet on.

Their cut has no consideration for management, the maintenance of the TAB retail network racing built, or the huge investment the TAB makes in promoting sports betting.

The new structure for sports payouts post RITA will be at a rate of turnover - not profit - and will be determined by the Sports Minister.

That should be enough to satisfy sporting codes that their generous cut from piggy-backing off the racing-owned TAB will continue.

Whether the negotiation for that rate will include consideration for costs for the function of sports betting looks unlikely.

But perhaps racing folk should be happy with what they will get, if my theory is proved correct.

And if it does, the racing industry should give Peters the kind of plaudits he got when he went on his lauded handouts to racing in the mid 2000s.

The only difference is this time he has given it something that will last.

Well, I am predicting he will, anyway.

Happy trails.

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