Winston Peters is not the only friend of the racing industry in the Government, New Zealand's racing chief believes. But he says the industry needs to "tell its stories" better to get wider support. Anendra Singh reports.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is a great friend of the racing industry but other allies in the Government are also well informed about its plight, says New Zealand Racing Board chief executive John Allen.
Allen was responding to a question from Hastings breeder/owner Mike Sanders today at the Hawke's Bay Racing clubrooms on what would happen to the industry if Peters didn't return to Government in the next general elections.
The chief executive assured more than the 30 stake holders who attended the 90-minute meeting, which went half an hour over its deadline, there were other protagonists, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in the Labour Party who were dedicated to safeguarding the industry.
The NZRB was holding its first "informal meeting" of six, to be followed by similar gatherings in Westport, Christchurch, Wingatui, Auckland and Hamilton in the next few days.
Ian Long and Gary Woodham backed up Allen during the passion-fuelled proceedings.
Allen said what also had emerged was the overwhelming support for Peters, who also is the Minister of Racing, to help boost the industry via gambling duty, introducing racing fields and better consumption charges.
"I think there are a number of people in Government who understand the potential of the industry and are committed to unlocking that potential and in supporting Winston Peters."
However, he said, the Government and Parliament, like the community, needed a lot of work to ensure everybody appreciated the "jewel" racing industry was in the country.
"In this country we have some of the best horsemen, some of the best horses, some of the best breeders in the world and the potential to deliver more from those resources - but it takes money and we've got to find the money for the industry to survive."
Allen acknowledged passion was strong in the industry.
"There's huge belief that the industry can be a hell of a lot stronger than it is today but there's a need for money to be injected so, obviously, the TAB is the primary funder where all our profits go to racing and, therefore, all the pressure is on us to perform."
Allen said the industry just wasn't telling its stories well enough.
He belonged to an era when many people had some sort of farming or equine affiliation but that wasn't the reality in New Zealand nowadays.
"We can't expect that people will somehow just, through osmosis, absorb the opportunity that they see it represents," he said.
"We have to get out there to tell the stories about racing, horses, owners, jockeys and drivers so that people understand the passion and excitement that are associated with the sport."
Allen said it was imperative for the industry to become much better in the presentation of its products in the social media to build a rapport with the younger generation.
"I believe there's a potential to use the traditional media platforms of NZME and Stuff but, more effectively, to promote products to Kiwis."
He felt the TV sector had room for expansion considering the deal with Sky was exclusive but that status had elapsed so the potential was there to present their products in different ways.
Asked if flirting with overseas prospects was a double-edged sword, Allen said it would give punters the opportunity to bet on international products which, in turn, would lead to betting with other agencies.
"The money from most betting agencies doesn't come to New Zealand so we're very keen to ensure we've got a competitive betting product."
That, he said, would open the window for punters to bet on racing and sport overseas but the money would come back to New Zealand.
Allen said the Kiwi urge to go to Australia to gauge their worth was undeniable.
"It's in our DNA isn't it, to always go to Aussie to beat them at home with whatever we're doing. So I'm not saying stop people doing that but to ensure people can have success and have economically prosperous careers in racing in this country."
That, he said, was tantamount to more stakes money, the urgent need to invest in infrastructure around the country to ensure it was fit for its purpose as well as lure new people into betting and racing careers.
"We've been investing and we've made a lot of progress with our betting platforms and outside broadcasting investments but we've got to continue to focus on what is needed to lift the profitability to fund a successful racing industry for New Zealand."
Allen didn't think there was a magic bullet because if there was one someone would have fired it a long time ago.
"I think there's a huge amount of passion, huge amount of skills, huge opportunities and we have a Government going to support us so that's a very good place for us to push hard to make real progress over a couple of years."
NZRB reported a $76.2 million net profit for the first half of 2018-19, which was 3.5 per cent ($2.8m) down on last year although distributions to racing codes increased to $83m, up 1.5 per cent ($1.2m) on last year. It included $2.3m funds for The Races (TRLP).
Two bills will be introduced to Parliament on implementing the Messara Review.
The first one, scheduled for next month, will include race fields (product fee for using NZ Racing and Sport), taxing Kiwis betting overseas and reduced restrictions on sport betting.
Bill two, in December, will encompass establishing a TAB New Zealand as well as implementing remaining reforms, including post-transition governance.
Allen assured the meeting he would return to address stakeholders and serve his five-year term as chief executive.