15 July 2001

Turf war

Behind the scenes tensions have finally spilled into a very public slanging match between TAB Ltd – which conducts betting on racing - and the NSW Thoroughbred Racing Board (TRB) - which runs racing itself. At stake is the long term health of the multi-billion dollar wagering industry, and at issue is just who controls racing in its most populous state.

When NSW Treasurer Michael Egan announced the privatisation of the TAB and the so-called “Mums and dad’s” public float in June 1998, the Government signalled that it was sink or swim time for both the new public company and a racing industry that had grown fat on 30 years of public sector support. Three years later, signs that the relationship is under severe strain are manifest.

TAB Ltd executives fired the first public shot when they put a blueprint for the radical reform of racing to the media at a briefing at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel on July 16. TAB chairman Gary Pemberton painted a picture of racing in NSW as an industry in “systematic decline”, one that is “evidently inefficient (and) has no plan for its future”. Racing, said Pemberton, had adopted a “cargo cult strategy, waiting for the tooth fairy to leave some money- through the government; the TAB; or through subsidies from… poker machines.”

“Those days are gone,” he concluded ominously.