Pokie grants keep clubs going

By Joseph Aldridge

Northland's premier horse racing club would face financial ruin if a gambling bill passes into law, club officials say.

Known as the Flavell Bill, the Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill proposes to cut the racing industry out from the legal distribution of pokie proceeds.

Fronted by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, the bill aims to transfer responsibility for distributing pokie funds from

gaming trusts to council appointed committees.

The racing industry is heavily reliant on pokie grants and the bill has alarmed racing clubs.

If the bill became law, the 92-year-old Whangarei Racing Club would have to borrow money, sell land or close up

shop, club finance manager Karen Houlihan said. The club was formed in 1920.

The Whangarei Racing Club received more than $300,000 from Northland gaming trust Oxford Sports Trust last year, equivalent to 85 per cent of the club's (non-racing) expenses.

About half of the money is spent on capital items such as a grass mower, health and safety compliant railing, and a new irrigation system, while the rest pays for repair and maintenance expenses, Ms Houlihan said.

The club would be unable to maintain its facilities without the money and would have to close.

Ms Houlihan questioned why the bill was singling out racing from other sports clubs.

''We're all non-profit organisations, we run sporting events at a venue that's also a community facility and sports betting happens on rugby, cricket and many other sports in New Zealand. This bill proposes stopping racing only from getting those grants which doesn't seem to be fair or make sense,'' Ms Houlihan said.

''Our argument is that racing clubs in New Zealand, particularly in areas like Ruakaka, are an integral part of the community, provide a lot of benefits, employment, economic benefits to the businesses here as well as the facility that gets used by any number of other organisations at no cost.''

The racing industry provided about $1.6 billion in economic activity each year, comparable to the seafood industry, she said.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said the Flavell Bill targeted racing because it was a professional sport.

''Why is it that we have one industry that is advantaged under the Gambling Act rather than the dairy industry or fishing or anything else?'' he asked. Mr Ramsey acknowledged that the Oxford Sports Trust did not provide money for race stakes, however, many other trusts around the country did.

''The real problem is that racing, as both a form of entertainment and a form of gambling, has been losing popularity for a long time and I think racing in New Zealand has become dependent on gambling,'' Mr

Ramsey said.

Terry Archer, chairman of the Oxford Sports Trust, said the trust has given $795,000 to racing during the past three years.

Mr Archer, a horse breeder and member of the Whangarei Racing Club, said he did not have a conflict of interest because he was not on any decision-making committees of the club.

The Whangarei Racing Club is viewed by the trust as a community amenity and receives a similar amount of funds as Sport Northland, Northland Cricket, Northland Hockey, and the Northland Emergency Services Trust helicopter. The Northland Rugby Union is the trust's biggest recipient, receiving about $800,000 a year.

Whangarei lawyer Grant Currie, also a board member of Oxford Sports Trust, said the trust was ambivalent about racing.

"If we can't give money to racing it's not going to bother us, but while we can we do consider that there's a sensible purpose, especially locally because of this job issue and the fact that the racing club depends on it. It will close down if it can't get money through the pokie machines."

- Northern Advocate

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