Yesterday there was a report on RNZ that $10.5m was allocated by Provincial Growth Fund to develop an all-weather racecourse at Riccarton.
This was a point of discussion as there have been questions about the application of funding from the PGF and the proud spearheading of New Zealand into the racing industry which coincidently has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the New Zealand Frist Foundation for few years.
This was an eye-watering example even by the standards of PGF and NZ First.
The racecourse fund was initially declined by PGF as it was located in Riccarton which is New Zealand’s second-biggest city and nowhere close to being a poverty-stricken province that needs investment. The bid was initially turned down in 2018 by officials citing it to be a strange place to spend PGF money.
“The proposed Riccarton Park synthetic racing track is located in Christchurch City, which is ineligible for PGF funding,” assessors from the Provincial Development Unit wrote, as per the documents obtained by RNZ.
The funding seems surreal as horse-racing is not in any way a traditional sport. It is in fact a vector for gambling and without it, there would be no race. The races are played on just one channel that’s owned by TAB which is New Zealand’s monopoly supplier of bets on its races. This nowhere suggests that there aren’t good people involved but the racing subset is existence only to facilitate hundreds of short, sharp opportunities to gamble.
Other gambling activities like casinos and pokie machine operators are heavily regulated and have the mandate to give back to the community through grants to sports clubs and arts foundations. Even the lotteries commission like Instant Kiwi and Lotto give back tens of millions in grants to entities like Sports NZ and Creative NZ
This giving back to society is driven by the concept that gambling causes social harm and hence offsetting it by social good can justify its existence.
Gambling on professional sports came into existence to help fund its grassroots amateur ecosystems, with a part of the profit going back to those roots- but only after helping fund the TAB, which is controlled and run by the racing industry.
This giving back to the relevant community offsets New Zealand’s legal gambling status and even the people who strongly consider gambling unpleasant or immoral find some solace that the gambling industry is supporting everything from club rugby to opera.
The only exception to this is racing wherein there is no mandate for this industry to give back to any community because under some weird laws, it beneficial for the community.
Horse racing is considered a charitable purpose which can only be explained by Shane Jones with a straight face, which means the money generated through gambling will be used for some charity but in reality, it is just ploughed back into horse racing. There is no charity done by the industry and the money generated is used to promote horse racing and on prizes for horse races.
However, this industry is suffering from a fast-aging audience who are at an average age of 50 in spite of Winston Peters turning out to extol its many virtues. It has reached a stage where it survives on significant public subsidy.
This is where the government has been truly appalling as Peters who recently became the minister of racing portfolio and started initiating industry-approved reforms of the racing board and took the reigns of the TAB.
It was followed by a $72.5m bailout for the industry during the coronavirus lockdown before the announcement of Riccarton racecourse. The existing racecourses located in Awapni and Manawatu had issues due to weather as when it rained the race had to be cancelled thus compelling people to delay their gambling.
With the new all-weather racecourse thanks to tens of millions from government funding, gambling can go on regardless of the weather. Jones told RNZ “the need for all-weather tracks was highlighted in an independent review of the racing industry”.
There are also a lot of scandals surrounding horse racing. The opacity of the New Zealand First Foundation donations is under investigation by Serious Fraud Office.
There is also the fact that PGF which is responsible to revive economies of regions through jobs, is funding a racetrack that’s based in a large city, with long-term jobs listed as “unknown”
Now, does anyone believe that there is any case for racing industry support apart from the industry itself and NZ First?
There is also a bigger question of what the next government will be doing about it. As per the current polling, NZ First looks long way out of parliament. That race ends on September 19 and it is still an open question if the horse racing remains New Zealand’s least-deserving winner after that date.