A PLEA has been made for the Government to save the local horse racing industry from certain closure.
Peter George, president of the Bookmakers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT), presented his case in an interview with the Express.
George lamented: “We have seen the massive decline in the industry in T&T. We have seen attendances dropping, lack of a horse population; we have seen poor facilities for the patrons. Infrastructure facilities are in bad shape. Generally, the whole racing complex leaves a lot to be desired.
“The Arima Race Club’s (ARC) management committee know what is happening. They are running at a deficit every year. They are owing millions of dollars to horse owners and purveyors. They are scrambling from meeting (race day) to meeting, It really should not continue. Horse racing, where it is today, with the management committee and its financial capability, is obviously a recipe for disaster. There is no doubt in my mind the racing industry is going to shut down unless something radical takes place,” he added.
George, a former owner, queried why the industry had not made more demands on the governmental authorities. “I am surprised that the ARC and the Betting Levy Board (BLB) have not put pressure on the Government of T&T — whether it is United National Congress (UNC) or People’s National Movement (PNM) — on the basis that horse racing in T&T is an industry. It employs in excess of 1,000 people, so it is mandatory of the Government of this country to take hold of what is happening in the industry, and do something to normalise it and sustain it, particularly for the benefit of the 1,000 directly and indirectly employed.”
George then explained why the club would not be able to pay stakes and creditors. “One of the main contributors to the racing industry is the taxes collected from the private betting shops. Over the last few years, we have seen a decline in taxes collected simply because revenues are falling year after year. As a matter of fact, in 2018 revenue dropped by about 33 per cent, and last year (2019) revenue was down by a minimum of 40 per cent.”
Asked about the drop in tax collection, BLB chairman Linford Carrabon said: “If you compare 2015 total taxes collected from PBS (private betting shops) and ARC ($26 million), to 2019, PBS and ARC ($13.4), the PBS dropped by 48 per cent and ARC dropped by 51 per cent collected during that period.”
George insists: “So the bottom line is very simple; the Government has to get involved in a big way if the racing industry has to be sustained. Now the mindset of many people in this country, including some members of Government, is that horse racing is the Sport of Kings so let them see about themselves; they can take care of the racing industry themselves, why get Government involved?”
But he pointed out, “It is no longer the Sport of Kings, simply because the middle class and other members of the community are involved now. It has become a sport for the benefit of everyone of T&T. It is not only for the elite or the wealthy. Many, many horses that are racing in this country are owned by syndicates of eight and ten people. So it is very important that the Government knows and people know it’s a sport that has benefit for all members of the country. This horse racing fallacy, that it’s a Sport of Kings no longer exists.”
And George is less than optimistic about the ARC turning things around. “I have noticed that present (ARC) president Mr (Robert) Bernard, in a newspaper article last year, (said) he was hopeful it will get better. And he forecast...he is going to make racing turn around and whatever. In my respectful opinion that is wishful thinking. In my opinion it is going to get worse. It is going to get so bad, there will be no doubt it will have to close.”
However, George does have, he believes, some solutions to save the industry.