A new era has begun in New Zealand’s horse racing industry, with TAB New Zealand taking charge of the sector from 1 August.
TAB NZ replaces the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA), the successor body to the New Zealand Racing Board (NZRB) that was established to manage the transition to a new governance model.
“The change marks a significant milestone in the history of the TAB and the racing industry. It also brings to an end a 13-month period of transitioning, as RITA, from the New Zealand Racing Board,” RITA executive chair Dean McKenzie said.
The new body will be responsible for maximising profits for the racing industry, as well as ensuring a fair return to sports, and will be tasked with managing customers, and preventing underage and problem gambling.
The individual racing codes, meanwhile, will have more autonomy to promote and develop the competitions they organise, rather than this being funnelled through a centralised racing authority.
It was facilitated by a two-stage legislative process, the first of which saw the Racing Reform Act implemented from 1 July, 2019. This saw RITA established as the NZRB’s successor and a new point of consumption tax levied on offshore bookmakers.
The second component, the Racing Industry Bill, was filed in December last year, and passed the New Zealand legislature in June 2020. This bill dissolved RITA and replaced it with TAB New Zealand, which becomes the sole licensed gaming operator in the country.
That second bill was scheduled to be passed by 1 July 2020, but ultimately passed a month later following the disruption caused by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The crisis contributed to revenue for the opening six months of RITA’s fiscal year, to 30 June, failing to meet expectations. While the NZ$187.1m (£94.6m/€105.1m/$123.3m) was up 2.0% year-on-year, it fell 8.0% below RITA’s projections for the period.
Despite the impact of Covid-19, McKenzie said the operator was already seeing signs of recovery, having cut 230 jobs, and suspended a number of services such as trackside television broadcasts, and its telephone betting service.
The TAB will also offer fewer manual on-course betting facilities, and instead increase the number of self-service betting terminals it operates at racecourses.
“Like everyone else in New Zealand we have had to make some changes, but we are looking forward with some confidence, cautiously optimistic of the year ahead,” he added.
McKenzie also praised Racing Minister Winston Peters, who was responsible for shepherding the racing reform bills through the New Zealand legislature.
“As we transition to TAB New Zealand we do so knowing that, despite the enormous challenges presented by Covid-19, RITA has delivered on the Racing Minister's expectations which were set out last year,” he said.
“The board is grateful for his ongoing commitment and support, as well as from those across government and parliament who have supported the charge to reform the industry over the past two years.”