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It is time for McGowan to pony up over TAB

For more information, contact Colin Holt (Member for the South West Region).

As a former minister for racing and gaming I was concerned to see the headline “Record TAB cash into racing” in The West Australian earlier this month. (Op-ed, The West Australian 23/08/17)

As a former minister for racing and gaming I was concerned to see the headline “Record TAB cash into racing” in The West Australian earlier this month. It is no secret to anyone who follows the industry that the WA TAB is struggling in the face of intense competition from online bookmakers and the advent of smartphones, which has essentially put a bookie in every punter’s pocket.

As a passionate advocate and supporter of WA racing, I always want to see the industry and clubs succeed.

That said, it must be pointed out it is not “record TAB cash” which has enabled Racing and Wagering WA to increase distributions to the industry. The distribution level has been kept at a palatable standard in recent years because of a surge in race field fee income. This income stream is not a reflection of the WA TAB or RWWA’s performance as it is derived from rival wagering operators, such as Sportsbet, “buying” WA racing product off our clubs. The “record $152.2 million” injection into the industry, announced in The West, likely came about through RWWA dipping into its cash reserves.

What wasn’t mentioned in the article is that the WA TAB now sits behind a number of corporate bookmakers in terms of gross wagering turnover. And likely trails many in the growth and size of new punter sign-ups. It is likely the WA TAB’s revenue and profit is again flat or has gone backwards this year, although information confirming as much is difficult to decipher because of the opaque way in which RWWA presents the TAB’s performance.

Since coming to Opposition, I have asked many questions of the financial performance of our State-owned betting agency in the Parliament but am regularly stonewalled behind the time-honoured veil of commercial in confidence. I am of the view that RWWA places too much emphasis on its “wagering arm” and not enough resources into assisting race clubs build a stronger profit or encourage new participants to the industry.

It is in this context that I will today bring a motion before the Legislative Council calling on the McGowan Government to stop dragging its heels on the future of WA racing.

During my almost two years as minister we were able to bring industry leaders to a united position that exploring a sale of the WA TAB was in their interests.

We initiated and carried out a club-by-club consultation across the State to ensure the industry was well informed of the benefits and risks associated with a sale. Our efforts, along with the hard work of the WA Racing Representative Group, forced Labor’s hand to commit to exploring a TAB sale prior to the election. Labor has now backed away from that promise, with Premier Mark McGowan citing Treasury advice that the sale would adversely affect the State’s credit rating.

The State Government is now toying with the livelihoods of tens of thousands of West Australians. If the industry agrees that a sale is in its best interest, then the transaction to a private operator should not be determined by any factor other than the industry's ongoing ability to survive and thrive.

Indeed, the Nationals were the only party which took a comprehensive policy to support the WA racing industry to the March election. We are of the belief the TAB belongs to the WA racing industry — not the State Government — and that all proceeds from a sale must be returned to industry, including the establishment of a racing infrastructure fund.

At present the WA racing industry is three-wide, punching the breeze with industry leaders calling on the new Government to assist. We are facing the headwinds of diminishing returns, dwindling industry participation, smaller attendances and a $150 million backlog of infrastructure needs which RWWA admit cannot be addressed under the current model.

It is time for the McGowan Government to pony up and listen to the industry in order to find a way forward.

Colin Holt is The Nationals WA spokesman for racing