New Zealand’s Racing Industry Transitional Authority (RITA) appears to have confirmed that venue closures are likely, though stressed that this was to be handled fairly as part of the ongoing industry overhaul.
In its latest update on the process to reform the country’s horse racing sector, RITA said that it and the wider industry acknowledged that the current track footprint was unsustainable.
“We have too many venues for the size of our industry, and we haven’t got enough capital to bring all venues up to the right standard of safety and quality for participants and punters,” it said.
“As we all know, this isn’t just an issue that’s been identified recently by John Messara,” RITA continued. “It was identified 50 years ago in the McCarthy Royal Commission Report from 1970; and is an issue we know we must address if we are to revitalise our industry.”
However, it added, clubs were concerned about the potential changes to communities that would result from any closures. The Messara Report, the blueprint for the overhaul of New Zealand racing, recommended that 28 of the country’s 48 thoroughbred tracks should be shuttered.
“With a number of RITA board members and management having been involved in the operation of a number of clubs, we have an acute awareness of the effort and contribution that grassroots volunteers have put into their venues, racing and the wider community over many years,” RITA noted.
It said that the Racing Industry Bill, which was filed in December, would ensure that the process of deciding which venues to be closed would be carried out in a fair and transparent manner.
This will take the form of the Future Venue Plan, in which the government, with input from all racing codes, evaluates each of the country’s 48 racetracks. The review will take into consideration the club’s financial performance, as well as its industry return, and the local community’s engagement with its events.
It will also consider the governance, its regional contribution as well as future potential for growth, and the alternative uses for the facility. Based on these factors, it will make a decision as to whether it should continue operating, or be considered a surplus venue.
There is an appeals mechanism for the club to dispute the review’s finding. This will all be handled by the racing codes, with the government to step in if a compromise cannot be reached. This would see an independent reviewer appointed by the Minister for Racing, to adjudicate on the matter.
This will be underpinned by government regulations, meaning the evaluation process will be the same for all locations. The actual criteria are yet to be decided, though they will be drawn up with input from clubs, with RITA appointing independent advisors to help with the process.
“RITA believes that, overall, this bill supports the process of change the industry needs, and also ensures that where change is proposed, every club will be treated fairly and respectfully and have its position genuinely heard and considered,” the authority explaiend.
“We believe the bill gives the industry the framework to address its venue issues, which have remained unsolvable for decades, in a structured and transparent manner.”
The update on the potential venue closures is the latest detailed report by RITA on elements of the Racing Industry Bill to be released in the past week. On 10 January, it attacked suggestions that the bill did not guarantee increases in industry funding, arguing that the racing industry would receive NZ$14m (£7.1m/€8.4m/US$9.3m) in new funding in its 2021 fiscal year.
The bill establishes TAB NZ as the successor organisation to RITA, as well as providing the legal framework for an overhaul of disparate elements of the industry. It followed the passage into law of the Racing Reform Act on 1 July 2019.
This set out a range of new taxes, including new point of consumption and race field fees, as well as establishing RITA as the replacement for the New Zealand Racing Board.