COMMENT:

The codes and clubs of New Zealand racing could be handed more power by huge changes to what will be one of the most important documents in the history of the sport.

And that could provide a lifeline to embattled clubs like Avondale while also providing the codes with more input into how their races are promoted to the public, including its under-siege broadcasting arm.

The Racing Industry Bill is on target to be passed before the election, which will be of great relief to racing administrators as they seek to get their house in order.

Advertisement

The Bill has been through the select committee process and will now return to Parliament for its second and third readings and looks certain to pass, meaning racing will be governed by new laws in coming months after some painstaking work by the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA).

The Bill includes wordy, technical clauses on issues most racing followers won't care about, things like the formation of TAB NZ to take over from RITA, how offshore betting charges will be collected, and the powers of the Racing Integrity Board.

But the select committee, who had over 900 submissions on the Bill, did make significant changes to the original document and with all racing administrators realising the need for it to be passed before the September election, there isn't a lot of time to seek more amendments.

Subscribe to Premium

One of the major changes by the select committee will make it harder for the Minister for Racing and/or the codes to deem a venue surplus to needs, and therefore that venue can be transferred to the code, basically closing racetracks and taking them over.

While that could cover any racing venue in the country, when most people in New Zealand racing, and most definitely northern thoroughbred racing, think of that potential law they think Avondale.

The West Auckland club is sitting on one of the more valuable pieces of land owned by a racing club that could be in for the chop. They were given no dates for next season and effectively been told there won't be racing at their track again.

The original Bill would have made it easier for a track like Avondale to be shut, taken over by the industry and potentially sold for the industry's benefit.

But the select committee stated granting the Minister for Racing the ultimate power to make that decision "could unjustly result in a club surrendering its venue to the code."

Advertisement

The Minister for Racing will, if the new version of the Bill is passed, have to place greater weight on factors like how the transferring of any club's assets would effect that club's local community, including what not for profit purposes a track may be used for.

The latest version of the Bill also states clubs whose venues are under threat have the right to an independent reviewer and as a last resort can appeal to the High Court.

What does that all mean? It means it is going to be a lot harder for the codes to get their hands on venues like Avondale and, if they want to, sell them.

Whether racing people like that or not, if it becomes law Avondale will have avenues available to them that looked closed just weeks ago.

Avondale race course. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Avondale race course. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Another key change to the original bill relates to the ownership of racing's intellectual property (IP), which was originally going to handed over to TAB NZ.

That would have given them total control over all race fields, vision and audio of New Zealand racing, to use how they see fit.

The select committee has instead recommended this be a commercial matter to be negotiated between the codes and the TAB, so they now have to actually discuss how New Zealand racing's IP is used, rather than just hand it over to the soon to be formed TAB NZ.

The codes look certain to raise their concerns over the TAB's already implemented step away from promoting domestic racing which they decree is now the sole responsibility of the codes.

While that may be TAB NZ's plan, they also control the industry's only broadcasting arm in Trackside television, which is set to have enormously reduced local coverage in the new season with few days even allocated on-track presenters.

That means Australian metropolitan thoroughbred racing is scheduled to get more coverage, colour and engagement than New Zealand racing apart from 20 days a year. Put simply, New Zealand punters will get vastly superior coverage of foreign racing than local racing.

That deeply irks racing code bosses and could have a disastrous long-term effect on not only domestic turnover but risks making New Zealand racing unpalatable to casual viewers let alone potential owners.

If the new Bill forces TAB NZ and the codes to negotiate over how their IP is used it may come with the caveat New Zealand racing is not turned into an inferior television product. The codes will want racing promoted, not just screened.

Under the proposed Bill the codes and clubs had a lot less power. After the select committee changes, the future of racing looks more balanced.

*** The man who has helped navigate New Zealand racing to its new era is adamant he won't be in charge heading forward.

Dean McKenzie is the executive chair of RITA and has overseen the new racing bill as well as drastic and much-needed cuts to the industry's expenses.

He and many of the RITA board could stay on when that organisation becomes TAB NZ probably in August but McKenzie says he will not be the chief executive of the TAB NZ.

"I haven't applied and won't be applying to move to the chief executive role of the new TAB NZ," McKenzie told the Herald.

"We are looking for a new chief executive but that process has been slowed by Covid-19 restriction but it is a priority for the business."

The Herald understands several of those on a potential shortlist for the chief executive role, one of the most crucial appointments in the history of the industry, are based overseas so have not yet been able to come to New Zealand for the next phase of interviews.